July-August Kittens with computer and books

June is a hot month for the Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem! We have several exciting events happening, including MOTIVE and Shetland Noir where we have star power.

We’re continuing our mission to promote Canadian crime fiction through a month-long lecture series as well as attending exciting book launches. See you there, Readers!



Toronto’s open-air book festival, Word on the Street, just wrapped up on May 27/28th. The weather cooperated with glorious sunshine and big crowds. Great to be back at Queen’s Park Crescent. The Mesdames and Messieurs sold lots of books, reconnected with fellow authors and met new readers, including celebrities.

Here’s Toronto mayor candidate, Olivia Chow, at our booth with Mme Lynne Murphy!

Many thanks for Mme Caro Soles and friend, Nancy Kilpatrick, for organizing and to M. H. Callway, Lisa De Nikolits, Blair Keetch, Rosemary McCracken, Lynne Murphy and Sylvia Warsh.


Catch the Mesdames and Messieurs from June 2nd to June 4th, at MOTIVE Crime and Mystery Festival in Toronto. There’s a packed schedule of events!

On Friday June 2 at 6 PM,  Mme Melodie Campbell will be interviewed by Canadian crime fiction icon, Maureen Jennings, creator of the world-famous Murdoch series. Afterwards there’s the launch of Melodie’s 17th book, the first in her new crime fiction series, The Merry Widow Murders. 

On Saturday June 3rd at 11:30 am Mme Lisa de Nikolitis will interview award-winning Canadian crime writers Dietrich Kalteis and Sam Wiebe at the Lakeside Terrace at Harbourfront Center.

On Sunday June 4 at 11:00 AM at the Lakeside Terrace at Harbourfront Centre, Mme Melodie Campbell joins Jonathan Whitelaw and Sam Shelstad for the panel discussion: Comic Crime Capers.

Then at 1-2:30 PM you can join Melodie again in the Main Loft in Harbourfront Center for her Masterclass: Comedy In Crime.

Love humorous crime novels and/or want to add humour to your own stories? Join award-winning author Melodie Campbell as she shows you how she does it with examples, and breaks down the various types of humour you can include in your own work, or merely enjoy in your reading. A fun, relaxing 90-minute workshop with “Canada’s Queen of Comedy” (Toronto Sun). All writing levels welcome.

The above are ticketed events. You can attend MOTIVE using a Day or Weekend Pass. For more information on tickets and pricing, visit the website here.


June 3rd and 4th the Mesdames and Messieurs will be well-represented in the Crime Writers of Canada booth by Blair Keetch, Lynne Murphy, Rosemary McCracken and Sylvia Warsh.

During the day, they’ll be selling and signing their books at the CWC booth from 11 am to 4 pm. Later on they’ll be reading from their work. Readings begin on Friday, June 2nd at 5 pm. On Saturday and Sunday, readings begin at 4:30 pm.

This part of MOTIVE is free and open to the public.


Mme Lisa de Nikolitis will be part of the Shetland Noir conference to be held on the – you guessed it – Shetland Islands from June 15th – 18th. Her journey there includes a 12 hour ferry ride from Aberdeen!

Lisa will be moderating the panel, When you don’t know who to trust.

Use control-click to zoom in on the program.

Shetland Noir was founded by legendary writer, Ann Cleeves, creator of the Vera Stanhope, Jimmy Lopez and Matthew Venn series.  The conference has a program packed full of internationally known writer events, workshops, panel discussions and outings. It also includes film, music, live performance, as well as other “noir” related content.



Lisa will be interviewing Dietrich Kalteis at his book launch on Saturday June 3rd from 3:00 to 5:00 PM at the Supermarket, 268 Augusta Street in Toronto’s Kensington Market.

In his new book, The Get, anti-hero, Lenny Ovitz, has problems: he’s up to his eyes in debt and his wife wants a divorce. He comes up with a scheme to solve all his problems.

On Saturday, June 17th, 2 pm, Mme Melodie Campbell will host the public launch of her new book, The Merry Widow Murders.

The launch will be at A Different Drummer Bookstore, 513 Locust St., Burlington.


Lynne Murphy

Mme    Lynne Murphy is heading up a 4-week lecture series, Crime Writing in a Cold Climate, about Canadian crime fiction for Senior Adult Services.

Dates are every Friday at 2 pm, beginning June 2nd. This is a ticketed virtual event. For more information on how to register, visit the SAS website here.

Every week, Lynne will have a guest presenter. From L to R, June 2nd, Lynne and M. H. Callway discuss police procedurals. On June 9th, she and Rosemary McCracken analyze amateur sleuths. On June 16th, Lynne and Melodie Campbell examine thrillers and historicals. And at the final session, Lynne and guest, Lorna Poplak, discuss the enduring popularity of true crime.

Tuesday, June 13th, Mmes J.E. Barnard and Therese Greenwood join Erik D’Souza and Ludvica Boota from Crime Writers of Canada on Facebook Live. They will demystify the CWC awards judging process, discuss the upcoming 2023 awards, and encourage both entries and potential jurors. Time for the event TBD.


Dr. Melissa Yi

Mme Melissa Yi’s fantasy story, “Rapunzel in the Desert”, has been nominated for an Aurora Award. It was published in Issue 122 of On Spec magazine.

Melissa also has a piece in Crime Reads about creating believable Asian characters.

That’s the first secret: think of your character as a human being...


June’s story is by our Queen of Comedy, Melodie Campbell. In her light-hearted romantic thriller, “The Kindred Spirits Detective Agency”, ghosts from the 1930s stick around to help the living.

Melodie’s story will go live on Thursday, June 15th.

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Posted in News | Leave a comment

MME STORY for MAY: Amdur’s Cat by M. H. Callway


M. H. Callway writes mostly crime fiction short stories and novellas, many of which have won or been short-listed for leading awards, including the CWC Awards and the Derringer. This year her work was nominated in both the short story and the novella category. Her novella, Amdur’s Ghost, is part of our latest anthology, In the Spirit of 13.

Dr. Benjamin Amdur, the beleaguered civil servant in Ontario’s Ministry of Health, originally appeared in “Amdur’s Cat”, a novella in our first anthology, Thirteen.

Amdur stumbles across a lion on his way home from a Christmas party. Little does he suspect that the lion will help him save Ontario’s public health care…


On a snowy December night Benjamin Amdur saw a lion.  It was gamboling about like a kitten swatting at the fat, wet snowflakes that tumbled through the dark.  Right in the centre of Riverdale Park by the children’s wading pool.

            Under the lamps of the park’s snowy pathway, the lion’s tawny fur glowed like the back of an old velvet sofa. For a brief moment – that gap between the surreal world and biting reality – he watched Rousseau’s painted lion come to life.

            Then he remembered the sleeping gypsy – the minstrel who was about to eaten.

            He grasped the icy black iron fence beside him. The house it surrounded lay dark. At two in the morning, its inhabitants, like most normal people, were in bed.  By the time he woke them up screaming for help, the lion would have torn out his throat.

            With infinite caution, his eyes on the animal, he edged back into the shadows of Winchester Street, the road he’d weaved down moments before. Behind him, three blocks away, lay Parliament Street with its strip bars, eateries and mini-marts. Surely to God one of those places had to be open!

            The lion leapt in the air. It snapped at the snowflakes as they fell. He heard the crunch of its jaws, saw the flash of its teeth. Its tail lashed back and forth.

            Then it paused, raised its huge head and sniffed the air. Its nostrils twitched.

            It saw me!

            Amdur turned and ran like a mad man.

            Adrenalin buoyed him up for the first few feet but deserted him almost immediately.  He was forty-eight and twenty pounds overweight.  His regular habit of walking to work did nothing to bolster his panic-stricken need to run. He tore down the slushy sidewalk, his mind fixed on the zebras of the veldt. Zebras who ran far more swiftly than he. Zebras brought down and eviscerated alive…

            By the time he reached the yellow lights of Parliament Street his chest was heaving. He doubled over, gasping for oxygen. If the lion got him now, he was dinner. But he couldn’t take another step.

            He looked frantically up and down the street. Every storefront was dark.  No buses, no taxis, no cars.

            Then he spotted an angel standing under a streetlight a few yards to the south. Well, not an angel exactly, but a young police officer, her uniform immaculate, the brim of her cap spotless, her leather boots and gun holster gleaming with polish.

            He summoned his remaining strength and stumbled over to her. “Oh, thank God…an animal…danger…” He couldn’t stop panting. “Very dangerous. Over by …Riverdale Farm.”

            She raised a tidy eyebrow. “Are you quite all right, sir?”

            “No…no, I’m not all right.” With the dispassion of his medical training, he estimated his heart to be thumping at 180 beats per minute. His blood pressure didn’t bear thinking about. “You…help…must get help.”

            “How much have you had to drink tonight, sir?”

            “Drink?” he echoed.

            “Quite a few, I’d say. Identification, please.”

            “What?” Finally he caught his breath. “Please, you don’t understand. There’s a bloody great animal running around loose. It’ll rip someone apart. We have to stop it.”

            “Your ID. Now!” Her hand moved toward her baton.

            Amdur dragged out his wallet and handed her his driver’s license. Her laser stare burned through its laminate cover.

            “Dr. Benjamin Amdur.” She studied his face with more than an element of disbelief. “So you’re a doctor.”

            “Yes, I’m with the Ministry of Health. I’m Assistant Deputy Minister in charge of OHIP.”

            That made no impression on her whatsoever. “OHIP?”

            “Your, I mean, our free medicine in Ontario. Look here, we’re wasting time.”

            “How many drinks have you had tonight, sir?”

            “What the hell does it matter? I was at a Christmas party, for heaven’s sake. At the National Club.” That lofty name made even less impression on her. “I tell you I know what I saw. There’s a lion on the loose.”

            “Lion! Why didn’t you say so!”

             “I did say so.”

            “Where? Where did you see it?”

            “In Riverdale Park, by the children’s wading pool…the farm.”

            She shoved his license in her tunic and tore down Winchester Street, leaving him standing there like an idiot. He chased after her, but she set a blistering pace. He only managed to catch up with her at the edge of the park.

            No sign of the lion.

            Amdur squinted through the heavy curtain of falling snow. Where was the beast? Where was it? The grounds of the park stretched out before him, white and featureless under the thick drifts.  

             “I don’t see any lion.” The police officer scanned the area with her hard dark eyes. “Show me exactly where you saw him.”

            “Right over there!” Amdur pointed to the spot.  

            “OK, let’s go. You first.”

            “I don’t think that’s wise.”

            “I’ll be the judge of that.” She unbuttoned her holster. “Get going or I’ll arrest you. For wasting police time.”

            “Fine, fine.”

             The pathway lay buried in snow. He trudged through the heavy wet drifts toward the dark shapes of Riverdale Farm, a miserable King Wenceslas with his testy page behind him.

            By the time they arrived at the snowed-in wading pool, he was thoroughly chilled. “The lion was here.” He scanned the ground for paw prints but saw nothing. “He was running around right here, I swear it. The snow must have covered his tracks.”

            “Right, sure. One side.” She pushed past him, bending down to study the snow drift in front of them. Suddenly she stiffened. “Did you hear that?”          

            “No, nothing.” The falling snow muffled all sound.

            “Over there.” She pointed to a tangled clump of bushes a few feet away, stood up and unbuttoned her gun holster. “Stay here.” She headed for the bushes. 

            “Wait! For heaven’s sake, call for back-up.”

            She vanished behind the twisted mass of branches.  The lion must be behind it, lurking…

            Amdur fumbled for his Blackberry. Why had he trusted that inexperienced young constable?  She was going to get them both killed.

            He tried to punch out 911, but the phone slithered from his frozen hands and plopped into the snow. He kneeled down and foraged desperately for it. By the time his numb fingers retrieved it, he was staring at the police officer’s polished boots.

            He stumbled to his feet. “You’re back. You’re all right.”

            “Score ten out of ten, Captain Obvious. You can put your phone away now.”

             “Where’s the lion? Did you see him?”

            “Oh, yeah, right. The lion.  Sure, I saw him. Teeth like a raptor. I’ve got him right here.”

            He noticed belatedly that she was clutching a furry wet bag in her arms.  The bag came to life with a piercing cry.

            “Here take him.”

            Before he had a chance to react, she heaved the soaking bundle at him. It thudded against his chest. Long, curved claws dug into his cashmere overcoat.    

            “That’s a cat!”

            “No kidding.”

            “I didn’t see a cat. I saw a lion!”

            “Right, sure you did. Time to go home. You first.” She pointed the way out of the park.

            “This isn’t my cat. I don’t own a cat.” He tried in vain to detach the animal’s claws. “Look, I can’t just take him.”

            “Fine, doctor.” The word ‘doctor’ rang with the respect she no doubt reserved for pimps and pederasts. “Here’s your choice. Either you take your cat home all nice and quiet or I throw you in the drunk tank. How about that? I bet that’d go down real well with your fancy-ass friends at the National Club.”

            “For God’s sake!” He gripped the cat with his free hand and shoved his phone back into his coat pocket with the other. He felt exhausted – and admittedly too well-oiled – to argue any further.

            She’d read his address from the front of his driver’s license, so she knew exactly where he lived. He stumbled out of the park to Sumach Street, then north to the tall brick Victorian house that held his flat. Both she and the cat stuck with him up to the front door.

            “Keys!” She held out a gloved hand.

            Swearing, he clutched the cat with one chilled hand, dug out his keys with the other and handed them over.

            Once safe inside his flat, he tried to detach the cat, but it let out a terrifying howl.

            “Damn it, the cat will wake the other tenants. What do I do?”

            She laughed and tossed his keys down on the hardwood floor next to his soaking feet.    “Dry him off and feed him. Give him tuna. Cats like tuna.”

             “And what the hell do I do about his other end?”

            “Tear up some newspaper. Throw it in a box. And don’t forget, Dr. Amdur. I know where you live.” She snapped the edge of his driver’s license and flipped it down onto the floor next to his keys.

            With that, she slammed his front door shut and left.

             And he’d taken her for an angel! She was a demon, a witch – and this wretched lump of wetness attached to his chest was her familiar.

            He lurched down the hall to the bathroom, the cat clinging to his overcoat like grim death. He yanked a bath towel off the heated rack, wrapped it around the animal and tried to dry it off. It shuddered with cold and meowed piteously. After a few more minutes of rubbing, it looked slightly less like a demonic imp from hell. He could see that although its fur was mostly black, it had white paws like socks. A red leather collar circled its neck: it had to be someone’s pet.

            “There you go, cat.” At long last, he managed to extract its claws from his coat. He set it down on the tiles next to the radiator. Now he had to feed the damn thing.

            He made his way to the kitchen. On his way there, he flung off his sodden coat and retrieved his keys and driver’s license. I’m going mad, he thought, shivering. Hallucinating. Seeing lions of all things.

            He seized the bottle of cognac standing on the granite counter, poured himself a generous shot and downed it.

            Alzheimer’s at forty-eight, he thought. Rare, but medically possible. Or maybe it’s because the wretched Tories got elected by a landslide – that’s what’s pushed me over the edge.

            He faced an unpleasant Executive Committee meeting first thing in the morning.  The Assistant Deputy Minister’s formal introduction to the new Minister of Health: a man named Herb Cott, a first-time MPP and an as yet unknown quantity.  Amdur’s IT staff had scoured the internet and uncovered that Cott’s life experience was limited to running a fish bait shop. In the same riding where the new Premier kept his family cottage, of course.

            From selling worms to managing the multi-billion dollar operations of the Ministry of Health.  Wonderful! Amdur poured himself another shot of cognac.

            “Meow!” The cat had followed him into the kitchen. It crouched on the slate tiles, its luminous green eyes looking up at him expectantly.

            Right, feed the damn cat. He set down his empty glass and searched through the cupboards. No tuna, but he did have some canned salmon. It was Nora, his late wife’s favorite comfort food. Even now with Nora gone, he couldn’t resist buying it whenever he made the effort to go grocery shopping.

            He opened the can, slopped a few spoonfuls onto a saucer and set it down on the floor. The cat gave it a tentative sniff.

            “Salmon not good enough for you?” Amdur opened his stainless steel refrigerator and found a carton of milk.  He poured a little milk into a soup bowl and turned to give it to the cat. The salmon had disappeared.

             “That was fast work.” He set the milk down in front of the cat, fetched a dry bath towel from the bathroom, folded it and put it down in front of the kitchen radiator.  “There’s your spot,” he told it.

            Now for the other end. He glanced at his watch. Already time for the morning paper to be delivered. Given its praise for the Tories’ promised deep cuts to health care spending, he couldn’t think of a better use for it.

            But when he opened the outside door to pick up the paper, he noticed a large shopping bag sitting on the verandah. Inside it he found a plastic litter pan, kitty litter and several cans of cat food. 

            And a handwritten note that said: I know where you live.


            He woke with a start three hours later. The cat had crawled onto the foot of his bed while he slept.  It purred as he examined the red leather collar around its neck.  No tags, nothing that could identify its owner.

            “What am I going to do with you?” he said to the cat as he got ready for work. “No time to find your owner this morning. I’m already fiendishly late.” 

            Despite grabbing a taxi, he was the last of the ADM’s to arrive at the Executive Committee Boardroom. Vladimir Nickle, the aged Deputy Minister, raised a sparse eyebrow in disapproval. Amdur’s colleagues shouted their ribald greetings, ignoring Nickle as usual. Nickle’s lengthy and ineffectual sojourn at the Ministry had allowed them to run their divisions as they pleased – and assured their ongoing loyalty to him.

            Amdur tossed out a few cheerful zingers in reply before he dropped into his usual chair beside his friend and ally, Judy Reed, the ADM of Communications and Community Health. A blissful aroma of fresh coffee emanated from the credenza over by the wall, reminding him that he’d missed breakfast.  He noticed that Nickle had dusted off the Ministry’s official china set and even ordered muffins in honour of Cott’s visit.

            “Muffins!” Amdur eyed them hungrily. “Nickle never budgets for food. Even at Christmas,” he whispered to Judy.

             “Cott won’t care about Nickle’s little party,” she whispered back. “My sources tell me the Premier’s staff call him The Cutter. He hates all forms of government.  In fact, he calls us bureaucrats ‘civil serpents’.”

            “What did we poor overworked government buggers do to him? Turn down his fishing license?”          

            “Don’t joke. The Cutter’s catchphrase is: I’m derailing the government gravy train.”

            “Hardly auspicious.”

            Amdur glanced at his watch. Minister Cutter and his retinue were already several minutes late. Casual conversations broke out around the table. Nickle appeared to be dozing off.

            Since Judy owned at least three cats, Amdur entertained her with the tale of his late night adventures though he carefully omitted any mention of the lion.

            “The way that police officer behaved!” she said. “That poor kitty!  His owners must be frantic. You should file a complaint with Toronto Police Services.”

            “Oh, I can’t be bothered. I’ll drop the cat off at the Humane Society tonight.”

            “Well, you could do that, I suppose. But many owners don’t think to look there for their lost pets. I know a faster way. Is the cat chipped?”

            “You mean a microchip?”

            “Yes, vets sometimes put a chip under the cat’s skin. It holds the owner’s contact information. I know a nice vet in Riverdale. Why don’t you take the cat there? Ask him to read your cat’s chip.”

            “Fine, but how do I carry the bloody cat over to the vet clinic? I need a leash or something.”

            Judy laughed. “I have a spare cat carrier in my office. Drop by and pick it up.” She laid a warning hand on his arm. “Heads up.”

            Nickle’s eyes had creaked open. He uttered a dry cough. “Gentlemen, ladies. Time is rather getting on. Have any of you had word…from your respective staffs…that perhaps…”

            “Our new guy is wandering around doing an impromptu inspection?” one of the other ADM’s filled in.


            A flurry of Blackberries and iPads hit the table. After a lot of furious tapping and hushed conversations, everyone came up empty. No sign of the new minister.

            Nickle heaved a windy sigh. “Rather a basic question perhaps, but do we know what our new Minister looks like? He is …um…rather an unknown quantity. Do we perchance have a…um…photograph?”

            Glances were exchanged.  Amdur pulled up a file on his iPad, quietly blessing his IT staff for covering his backside.  “This is him.”

            He passed his iPad to Nickle who passed it on. It circled the boardroom table to cries of “He’s fishing in his canoe, how cute.” “People voted for that?”  “Who’s uglier, him or the pickerel he just caught?”

            “Might I have your attention?” Nickle’s voice sounded surprisingly strong. “Benjamin, you’re the practical one. Would you mind…”

            “Of course.” Amdur rose and left the boardroom, taking his iPad with him. 

            Rather than searching aimlessly through the rabbit warren of corridors at Queen’s Park, he took the elevator straight down the main lobby. To his relief one of the senior security guards, Ludmilla, an uncompromising Russian immigrant, sat on duty at the main reception desk.

            “Sure, I see this weirdo.” She handed him back his iPad. “He say, hey you lady, take me to Minister’s office. So I say, sure, no problem, but Minister he is busy guy. You go down hall to Service Ontario. Stand in line for your health card like normal peoples.”

            Disaster, Amdur thought. He rushed down the hall to the Service Ontario office, looking frantically for signs of the Minister’s party. In the crowded room, he spotted no well-tailored people who could be Cott or his aides.  

            He handed his iPad to the receptionist sitting at the entrance to Service Ontario. She studied the screen and pointed to the waiting area. There in the front row, his back to them, sat a rumpled fiftyish man, alone.

            Amdur straightened his posture and walked over to him. It was Cott all right, a scowl on his face and a number slip in his hand. 

            “Minister Cott?”

            Bloodshot eyes stared up at him from under a set of shaggy brows. Cott wore a hunting vest over his red plaid shirt. His stained khaki pants were shoved into a pair of muddy rubber boots. No hat graced his close-cropped head.

            “We’re waiting for you upstairs, Minister. Is your team with you?”


            Cott heaved his bulk out of the chair and followed Amdur out of the Service Ontario office. When they passed security in the main lobby, Cott balled up the paper number and tossed it in Ludmilla’s face.

            Amdur cleared his throat in protest, but Cott had already barreled over to the elevators. They continued their journey upstairs in deathly silence.

            When they reached the top floor, Amdur ushered Cott down the hall into the Executive Boardroom. None of the ADM’s could conceal their surprise. The pickerel had landed.

            Nickle creaked to his feet and offered Cott his chair. Cott plunked himself down and said nothing. He made a slow study of each of the ADM’s in turn.

            A staring contest, Amdur realized, annoyed at Cott’s childish power game.  He watched Nickle teeter over to the credenza, pour out a cup of coffee and shakily set it down in front of the new Minister.

            Cott looked at it. “What’s that? You trying to poison me?”

            Nickle uttered a dry laugh. “Good joke, Minister. Very good joke.” He signaled to the others to join in the laughter. No one did.

            “Go sit over there.” Cott pointed Nickle to the chairs along the side of the room where his aides, had they been there, were supposed to sit. Nickle shrugged and did as he was told.

            Cott leaned his burly forearms on the boardroom table. “Now then. Your Ministry eats up thirty billion of dollars every single year.  Your Ministry eats up more’n any other goddamn government department. Hell, it eats up more’n all them departments combined. That’s money you guys steal right out of the taxpayer’s wallet.”

            “With respect, Minister, Ontario taxpayers do get considerable benefits from our health care system,” Amdur put in.

            “Oh, you think so, eh? I’ll tell you what the taxpayers want. They want choice.  They don’t want no nanny state. They want their freedom back.”

            “You mean freedom to die if you can’t afford a doctor or a hospital,” Judy said from her place next to Amdur.

            Cott ignored her. “Now you all listen up good. No more swimming around in gravy. I’m cutting your health budget by fifty percent. That’s right: fifty percent. That’s what I told the voters I’d do when I got elected and you’re gonna watch me do it. Next year, I’m cutting you buggers back another fifty percent. You wanna keep working here, you’ll do what I say. Understand?”

            In the stunned silence that followed, Cott foraged in his hunting vest for a cigar. He leaned back, clumped his muddy feet on the mahogany table and lit up.

            “Minister, the…um…presentations,” Nickle ventured from his exile next to the muffins .

            “Save it. I’m gonna meet with each and every one of you.” Cott pointed with his cigar. “And each of you is gonna have to prove to me why I don’t just axe you and your whole damn department.” He swayed forward, thumping his feet on the floor. “And in case any of you civil serpents get any ideas, remember: Herb Cott stabs from the front.”

            “No problem, Minister,” Amdur couldn’t help saying. “I believe you’ve come to the right place.”


            “You certainly didn’t help matters,” Judy said later that afternoon when Amdur dropped by her office to pick up the cat carrier.

            “Sorry.” Amdur slumped into the chair facing her desk. “The world’s gone mad. A fool of a worm seller bent on destroying the health system of fourteen million people.”

            “I know.” She wiped her nose with a tissue.

            “Good heavens, Judy. You’ve been crying.”

            “Close the door.” While he did so, she opened the bottom drawer of her desk and pulled out a bottle of scotch and two glasses. “Join me?”

            “Of course.” He watched her pour out two generous shots. “What’s happened?”

            “Cott was just here. He accused me and my division of handing out freebies to illegal immigrants and perverts. He’s closing down all the walk-in clinics in the province, starting with the AIDS clinics.”

            “That’s illegal. He’ll never get away with it.”

            “The Tories have a majority in the House. They can do whatever they like. The Cabinet will simply pass an executive order.  They could do it tonight.”

            Amdur took a large swallow of scotch.  Crazy as it sounded, Judy was right.

            “It’s not the money, Ben. Mother and I will manage somehow. But if Cott fires me or I quit my job, who will fight for the AIDS clinics? He’s flushing thirty years of progress down the drain.”

            “We all have to fight Cott. All we ADM’s together.”

            “We’ll all be fighting too hard to protect our own turfs. You know how it works.”

            Maybe we’re not civil serpents as much as rats, Amdur thought.

            “Cott’s a horrible, petty little man.” Judy swiped at her nose. “He’s cancelled all vacations until further notice. Everyone in the Ministry has to work through Christmas. If he fires you, he’s making you work the mandatory two week notice period. And that includes Christmas, of course.  Lay-offs start tomorrow. He bragged about it!”  

            “That bastard!” Amdur drained his glass. “No one takes my staff without a fight.”

            But he knew he was facing the fight of his life.


            The cat was waiting by the front door when Amdur returned home that night. It purred loudly and rubbed itself against his legs.

            “Well, cat, you’re the only happy person I’ve seen today.”  

            He made for the kitchen and heard it patter in after him. While he heated up a frozen dinner in the microwave, he opened one of the cans of cat food the police officer had left him.

            “Disgusting muck.” Amdur stared at the can’s contents and refilled the cat’s dish.  “Like pate that’s gone off.  But you seem to like it well enough.”

            The cat made a strange humming noise while it ate, purring and chewing at the same time.

            He poured out milk for the cat and a large glass of Bordeaux for himself. When his dinner was ready, he carried it into his study and set it down on the desk next to his laptop. With all the day’s distractions, he faced hours of more work before bed.

            I’ve got to put a stop to The Cutter, but how? he thought. I can’t even trust my own brain. Did I see that wretched lion or didn’t I?

            He gulped down his meal while he combed the internet for reports of escaped lions in Toronto. Nothing. Frustrated, he pulled out his Blackberry and dialed Toronto Police Services.  After an excruciating maze of telephone menus, he reached the duty officer.

            “No sir, no reports about lions missing from the Toronto Zoo.  Are you quite sure that’s what you saw?”

            Time to track down the cat-throwing police officer, Amdur decided. Filing a complaint would make him feel better.

            He told the duty officer what had happened.

            “Did she give you her name and badge number?”

            “No, I forgot to ask.”

            “Sir, the force has over five thousand sworn officers. And a lot of them are dark-haired females in their twenties.”

            “Surely to God you know the names of the officers on patrol in Riverdale last night!”

            “Sure do. Constables Chan and Wong. Both male. Have yourself a nice night, sir.”

            Amdur was left listening to the dial tone. Wonderful, he thought. Now the police have me down on their weirdo list.

            “Meow!” The cat appeared next to his chair. In the next instant, it leapt onto his desk and knocked over his wine glass.

             “Damn it, cat.” He wiped up the wine. “Never mind. Time for me to get to work.” The cat stretched out across his keyboard. “Enough foolishness.” He lifted the cat onto his lap where it settled down. More purring.

            It stayed put while Amdur quenched the critical issues burning in his division. At the same time, he tried to reassure his staff that the Ministry wasn’t going down like the Titanic.

            Ha, bloody ha, he thought.

            At midnight an urgent e-mail appeared in his inbox. Nickle had resigned his post as deputy minister.

            Amdur leaned back, absently stroking the cat. “Poor Nickle. What a cold-hearted Merry Christmas after forty-five years of service! Inevitable, I suppose.” He sighed. “Tell me, cat, what did you see last night? Did you see the lion?”

            The cat looked up attentively.  Its pointed black and white face was rather sweet, Amdur thought.

            “I can’t just keep calling you ‘cat’.  All right, while you’re staying with me, why don’t I call you Tiddles?  That’s the name of my wife, Nora’s cat, the one she grew up with. He was quite the character apparently. I used to enjoy her stories about Tiddles. You see, I never had pets as a child. Too difficult in central London, especially with both parents working as doctors.”

            Amdur roused himself. It wouldn’t do to get attached to the cat. It belonged with its owners whoever they were.

            He searched out the website of the vet clinic Judy had recommended. It opened early in the morning. He’d have just enough time to drop by with Tiddles before work.


            The Saint Francis Animal Hospital sat on Parliament Street a short distance down from Peepers, Riverdale’s notorious strip club.

            At least the strippers have some Christmas spirit, Amdur thought as he lugged the cat carrier past the club to the vet clinic. Red and green lights were ablaze in its garish marquee and massive Christmas wreaths adorned its tarnished brass doors.

            He and Tiddles were the animal hospital’s first customers. A tiny dark man in medical greens introduced himself as the veterinarian, Dr. Ali.

            “Muhammad Ali, actually,” the vet said as he showed them into the examination room.  “This is a big joke, yes?”

              Amdur tried to smile. He set the cat carrier down on the steel examining table and tried to extricate Tiddles. The cat had resisted getting into the carrier and now only a nuclear bomb could dislodge him.

            “Allow me.” Dr. Ali dug some cat treats out of his jacket pocket. They worked like magic. Tiddles emerged and in short order, allowed himself to be examined. “How long have you owned your kitty?”

            Amdur explained that he’d found Tiddles in Riverdale Park.

            “I see. Well, your lost kitty is a neutered male. Looking at his teeth, I would say he is about five years old.” The vet ran his gentle hands down Tiddles’ sides. “He is rather thin, but his coat is thick. I would agree with you, doctor, that he is somebody’s pet.  He has a lovely nature, but…he is nervous.  Has he suffered a trauma?”

             “A predator chased him. A li-.” Amdur stopped himself just in time.

            “Exactly! Coyotes and foxes travel down the ravine system to hunt in our city. The outdoors is dangerous for kitties.” He fingered the scruff of Tiddles’ neck. “Good news. The kitty has a chip. I will read it and try to locate his owner.”

            He picked up Tiddles and carried him through the connecting door of the examination room into the innards of the animal hospital.

            Alone for the moment, Amdur called his executive assistant, Leslie Wong, on his Blackberry.

            “So far no earth-shattering crises – or at least they can wait till you get here,” she told him. “Oh, and Otto Winter, your IT security consultant, wants to see you.”

            Wonderful, Amdur thought. Otto never asked for a meeting unless his IT crisis was earth-shattering. “Very well. Tell Otto I’ll see him for lunch at my usual pub.” He couldn’t afford the time to eat lunch, but now he couldn’t afford not to.

            He finished the call just as Dr. Ali returned with Tiddles.

             “I have good news and bad news,” the vet said. “The good news is that I have located the kitty’s owner.”

            “And the bad news?”

            “I have spoken with her. She lives in Mississauga.”

            “But how could Tiddles end up in Riverdale Park? He’d have to cross thirty kilometers of highways and busy city streets to get here.”

            “Exactly. Sad to say some cat owners are not good people. When they no longer want their kitty, they simply throw him away. In a park or a cemetery.”

             “I can’t return Tiddles to that woman. She’ll only dump him somewhere else.”

            “True enough. Luckily, she does not want him back.  But she did say a strange thing. She claims he ran away in June. Obviously he has not been living rough for six months. He has found a new home in this area. This is the owner you must locate.”

            Amdur’s heart sank. “What do you suggest?”

            “My staff will put up a notice. That sometimes works. And you might call the other vet clinics near here.”  

             Amdur thought hard for a moment. “Tell me, do you know of an animal hospital that deals with, um, much larger animals?”

            “Do you mean horses? Or farm animals?”

            “No, I meant…a lion.”

            “A lion?” Dr. Ali laughed, highly amused. “Heavens, no! To own such a beast in downtown Toronto would be highly illegal. Why do you ask?”

            “Oh…er… curiosity.” The ring of his Blackberry saved him from further explanation. He recognized Judy Reed’s name on the call display. She sounded panic-stricken when he answered.

            “I just stepped out to call you. Cott and his crew are in my office. They’re coming to see you next.  And, Ben, Cott is on the warpath.”


            No time to take Tiddles home. Amdur quickly paid the vet clinic and hailed a cab outside. While the taxi tore down Wellesley Street to Queen’s Park, he phoned Leslie, his executive assistant, to warn her about Cott’s imminent arrival.

             “Take the freight elevator. I’ll meet you,” she said. “Judy will try to stall them another five minutes.”

            When he got to Queen’s Park, Ludmilla, the security guard, unlocked the freight elevator for him and sent him and Tiddles up to his floor.

            Leslie was waiting for him when he arrived. He tore off his overcoat and gloves and handed them to her. But when he tried to give her the cat carrier, she waved it away, eyes and nose streaming.

            ”I can’t, Ben. Allergies…”

            He could hear Cott’s rough voice approaching.  No time. He ran into his office, sat down behind his desk and shoved Tiddles’ carrier beneath it.

            “No noise, Tiddles.” He had only seconds to fire up his iPad before Cott burst into his office with two men behind him.

            The first, a tall bulky man, closed Amdur’s door and took up position in front of it. Obviously a private bodyguard.  The other much smaller, thinner man set down his briefcase and introduced himself as Cott’s lawyer.

            Both Cott’s aides wore expensive suits. Perhaps that was why The Cutter had switched his hunting gear for a dusty blue blazer over a golf shirt. Muddy Doc Martins replaced his rubber boots. He sat down in the visitor’s chair opposite Amdur’s desk without asking. The lawyer stayed on his feet.

            “You’ve gotta a lot of computer types in your shop,” Cott said without preamble. “You can tell ‘em their jobs are going. Over to India where they do the same stuff for cheap.”

             “I regret, Minister, that simply won’t be possible,” Amdur said.

            “What’s your problem? Look at you. You’re from there and you’re working here.”

            “I’m a Canadian citizen via England.” Amdur breathed deeply to stay calm. “And Minister, you cannot replace a Canadian’s job with a foreign national. It’s against the law.”

            “Corporations ship jobs offshore all the time. Hell, one of the big banks just did it.”

            “And got in a lot of trouble for it.”

            “So what? Get used to idea. And fast.”  Cott pulled out a cigar and pointed it at the lawyer. “You, fix it.”

            The lawyer coughed discreetly. “With all due respect, Minister. Dr. Amdur does have a point.”

            “He does, does he?” Cott lit up.

            “Would you mind putting that out?” Amdur said. “My executive assistant is extremely allergic to tobacco smoke.”

            “She’s not here.”

            “She will be in my office after you leave.”

            Cott scowled.  The lawyer plucked the smoldering cigar from his fingers and walked it over to the security guard, who took it outside.

            “Where’s he going? I need my protection,” Cott said.

            “He’ll only be gone a moment,” the lawyer assured him. “In the meantime, we have that other more serious issue to discuss.”

            At that moment, Tiddles let out an unearthly howl from where he sat trapped in the cat carrier.

            “What the hell was that?” Cott looked around frantically.

            “Nothing.” Amdur folded his hands on top of the desk. “Did you hear anything?” he asked the lawyer.

            “Um…not sure. The issue, Minister?”

            “Oh, yeah.” Cott collected himself. “You got a criminal working for you. In security no less. Now that’s gotta be illegal.”

            “Ah, you must mean Otto Winter,” Amdur said “He’s our security expert. And yes, he does have a suspended sentence for computer hacking. An old sentence, I’d like to point out. He’s saved Ontario taxpayers tens of millions of dollars by tracking down health care fraud.”

            “So what? Fire him.”

            “I can’t.”

            “Can’t or won’t.”

            “Both. I refuse to fire an excellent member of my staff without cause.  And may I point out, Minister, I’m sure you don’t want a lawsuit for unfair dismissal on your hands.”

            Cott looked at his lawyer. “Can the Winter guy do that?”

            “I’m afraid so, Minister,” the lawyer said.

            “Bull crap. He don’t have the bucks to sue.” Cott leaned forward, pointing. “Now you listen to me…”

            Tiddles let out another anguished howl. Cott froze, index finger in midair. “You…you’ve got a cat in here. A cat!”

            “I’m sure he doesn’t, Minister.” The lawyer threw a worried glance at Amdur. “You don’t, do you?”

            Busted, Amdur thought. “Actually, I do. Tiddles is our divisional house cat. I find that he’s good for employee morale. And improved productivity.”

            “Protection…where’s my protection?” Cott’s pudgy features took on a strange purplish hue. “He’s killing me…I can’t breathe.”

            Amdur leaped up to intervene worried that The Cutter had a bad heart, but the lawyer waved him off and helped Cott to his feet.

            “Herb, it’s OK. We’re going, OK? And Amdur is going to get rid of the damn cat. Right?”

            “As you wish.”

            Wheezing, Cott leaned on Amdur’s desk. “You…you planned this. You tried to kill me. You’re dead…you hear me? You’re dead.”

            He shook off his lawyer’s helping hand and stumbled out of Amdur’s office.  The lawyer shrugged, picked up his briefcase and followed him.

            Amdur sank back into his chair. “Well, Tiddles, I believe we’ve witnessed the worst case of felinophobia I’ve ever seen. And now since I’ve been declared dead, I am going to lunch.”


            A biting wind tore down Bay Street, chilling Amdur as he walked south with Tiddles to his favorite pub, The Duke of Sommerset. The hostess smiled when she recognized him and turned a blind eye to the cat carrier. She led him to his usual booth at the back where a fat sixtyish man sat nursing a glass of foamy beer.  

            Amdur slid into the booth opposite Otto Winter. He put the cat carrier on the bench, its mesh gate facing him so he could keep an eye on Tiddles.

            “New friend, doctor?  Personally I prefer the ladies.” Otto grinned over his beer. His cropped grey hair and stubbly jowls reminded Amdur of a decayed storm trooper.

            “Never mind the cat. What’s the problem?”

             “Better get your beer first. You will need it.” Otto groped through his grubby back pack and heaved a battered laptop onto the table.

Amdur ordered a much-needed pint of Boddingtons ale.  It arrived in a flash and he took a grateful swallow. “All right, how bad is the bad news?”

            “Our new dictator, Cott the Cutter, tried to hack into your email. Indeed he tried to explore the confidential files of your entire division.”


            “Not to worry. No one gets through my firewalls.  But Cott certainly has been a busy little beaver.”

            “But Cott’s an idiot worm salesman. He can’t be doing the hacking himself.”

            “Of course not.  His lawyer hired a computer rat in Asia to do Cott’s dirty work. A sneaky little rat, but not a deep thinker. I amused myself a little then boom! I spiked him.  For me, a piece of delicious cake.” Otto finished his beer and fished a rumpled envelope from the pocket of his equally rumpled jacket. “My resignation.”

            “Over my dead body!” Amdur banged down his beer glass. “The Ministry needs you.  Now more than ever.”

            Otto shrugged his heavy shoulders. “You may change your mind in a minute. You see, last night after I fixed the rat, I made a wormhole in Cott’s firewall. And up periscope!” He twisted his index finger to demonstrate.

             “I shouldn’t be hearing this.”

            “Even your cat could breach Cott’s el-cheapo security. Relax, Doctor. No one detected my ghost in The Cutter’s infernal machine.” Otto laced his fingers over his ample paunch. “Now ask me anything.”

            “Otto, I’m going to pretend this conversation never happened.”

            “I knew you would have scruples. Too bad.” Otto nudged his resignation letter over to Amdur’s side of the table. “Cott spends all his time on line watching porno.”

            “How depressingly predictable!”

            “Allow me to share the kinky details over lunch. My parting gift to the Ministry.”

            Otto fired up his laptop.


            Otto’s resignation letter in his pocket, Amdur flagged down a cab after lunch and took Tiddles home.  While the taxi waited outside, he released Tiddles from the carrier and refilled his dishes. Poor cat, he thought as he gave him a pat, you’ve had a tough day. But then again, haven’t we all?

            The darkening skies matched his mood as the cab returned him to Queen’s Park. Ludmilla barely acknowledged him when he passed by the reception desk. No doubt after her run-in with Cott, she was working her two week notice through Christmas.

            Back on his floor, he found Leslie stripping the ornaments off their office Christmas tree.

            “Cott just cancelled all staff Christmas parties,” she said. “All decorations are to be taken down. Not work-related he says, that SOB.”

            “Leave the tree up. Put the decorations back on. I’ll deal with Cott and his boys personally if they bother us about it.”

            “Thanks, Ben. I could use some Christmas cheer right now.”

            “And we’re throwing a farewell party for Nickle tomorrow morning. Here in my office. Call the caterers, send me the bill. Invite the whole damn Ministry.”

            “I’ll get right on it. And never mind the caterers. Everyone does potluck at Christmas.”

            I’ve got to neutralize Cott, but how? Amdur thought. For the rest of the day he tried to focus on work, but his mind teemed with the unwanted images of Cott’s sex fantasies that Otto had shared over lunch: Cott dressed as an anime school girl, spanking parties, dominatrixes…

            He didn’t shut down his laptop until the cleaning staff arrived outside his office. He decided to walk home though it was well past midnight. Maybe the frosty air would clear his head.

            When he reached Parliament Street, he thought of the vet clinic. Had Dr. Ali’s staff put up a notice about Tiddles? Might as well check since he was here.

            Business at Peepers strip club was brisk. Its brass doors stood open despite the chill, a crowd of patrons smoking outside. The loud throb of pop music assailed his ears as he passed under the pulsating lights of its marquee. Weaving his way around the smokers, something caught his eye.

            He stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and stared.

            I’ve been had!              


             Directly across the street from Peepers stood a Lebanese café. Thankfully it was still open. Amdur nabbed a seat by the front window where he had a full view of Peepers’ brass doors.  Shortly after he’d polished off his falafel, he spotted her leaving.

            She strolled a short distance up Parliament and turned onto Winchester, the same street where he’d fled the lion two nights before.

            He left the café and chased after her.

            She seemed preoccupied.  All to the good since he was a complete novice at spying. He kept pace half a block behind her, dodging the recycling bins set out for next day’s waste collection.

            At the end of Winchester, she veered north onto Sumach Street. He raced to the corner only to find that she’d vanished. He swore in frustration.

            The ground floor lights of the corner house flashed on – the same house where he’d stood watching the lion. Did she live there?

            He remembered holding onto the black iron fence that encircled the house’s front garden. But its back garden lay hidden by a high brick wall. Interesting…

            H heard an outside door squeak open. And a voice, unmistakably hers, speaking in warm, affectionate tones.

            “Did you miss me, Cyrano? Did you, baby?”

            He had to see into that garden. He seized a nearby recycling bin and wheeled it over to the brick wall. In an ungainly scramble, he heaved himself onto the bin’s lid.  Leaning on his knees, he grasped the top of the rough brick wall and looked over into the garden.

            And saw the lion!

            It frolicked in the snow like an oversized dog.  When she called his name, he bounded up to her and rubbed his huge mane against the navy legs of her police uniform.

            “Good evening,” Amdur called down from his perch.  “Now I know where you live.”

            The lion turned.  His yellow eyes gleamed, a ridge of the fur bristled down his back. He let out an unearthly roar that rattled nearby windows.

            “Cyrano, no!” she shouted.

            The lion crouched, ready to spring. Amdur lost his balance. In an explosion of noise, he flew off the recycling bin and crashed down on the icy sidewalk. He stared at the stars, winded, unable to move. Waiting for the dread dark shape of the carnivore to leap over the wall.

            He heard her anxious voice call: “Cyrano! Cyrano!” Followed by the lion’s roars and grunts as it loped back and forth on the other side of the wall.

            Got to get out of here…got to. Before it jumps over and gets me.

            His right knee hurt like a bastard. He rolled onto his side and dragged himself up. 

            Got to get home.

            He limped down to the street corner. Now to get past the lion’s house.

             He heard the front door bang open.

            “Wait, wait! Are you all right?” She charged down the verandah steps to intercept him.

            He waved her off. “I’ll be fine. Just keep that bloodthirsty animal of yours locked up.  Now get out of my way. I’ve had a bloody awful day.”

            “Please don’t call the police.”

            “Why not? You impersonated a police officer. And you’re keeping a dangerous predator in a neighbourhood full of children.”

            “Cyrano’s a sweetheart. He’s completely tame. And I never said I was a cop.”

             “You led me on – admit it.”

            “All right, yes, I did. But I was desperate. I had to save Cyrano. The police would have shot him on sight.”

            Amdur couldn’t argue with that. “He was behind the bushes the other night, wasn’t he?”

            “Yes, but he would never have hurt you. He’s gentle and affectionate. Why don’t you come in and see for yourself? I put him back in his cage. You’ll be safe, I swear.”

            “To find out first hand if he likes human flesh? No, thank you!”

            “At least tell me if Boots is all right.”

            “You mean the poor cat you threw at me? Obviously he’s yours, too. Or was. Well, he’s my cat now. And his name is Tiddles.”

            She started to cry. “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I didn’t know what else to do. I had to get you out of the park before anyone else saw Cyrano. And-and now I’ve lost Boots…Tiddles…”

            “At least he won’t end up as an aperitif for Cyrano.”

            “NO! Cyrano would never hurt him. They’re best friends. Look, Cyrano and I are going back home to Las Vegas in a couple of days. I landed a six month gig. Can we please talk about this?”

            “Fine”. And so, against all his better instincts, Amdur gave in.


            Sophie – for that was her name – settled him in the spacious kitchen at the back of the corner house. She placed an ice pack on his knee and a glass of Bourbon in his hand.

            Cyrano crouched in a cage-like structure that resembled an oversized dog crate. He threw off a fusty, gamy odour that filled the room – indeed the entire house. The corner mansion, Amdur learned, belonged to Sophie’s aunt who’d moved into a retirement home.

            “I miss Boots,” she said, wiping her eyes. “I found him in the park in June. He was starving, I nursed him back to health.”

            “You mean to say that you and Cyrano have been living in Riverdale for six months!”

            She nodded. “We were between jobs.”

            “That cage looks flimsy.” Amdur and Cyrano glowered at each other. “Small wonder he got out.”

            “It’s my fault. Cyrano gets so bored cooped up in his cage. I let him have free run of the house sometimes. He’s never caused trouble before. The other night I forgot to lock the front door. So he got out. Boots, too.  Cyrano knows how to work door knobs. He’s very intelligent.”

            As if on cue, the lion emitted a low vibrating growl.

            “You hear that? He’s purring.” She refilled Amdur’s glass. “I raised him from a cub. My folks, well, all of us are circus people.” She sighed. “I suppose you saw my photo outside Peepers.”

            “Yes, Sergeant Cupid, I did.  Your police officer act is very convincing.”

            “I’m not ashamed. Pole dancing keeps me in shape. And it costs a lot to feed Cyrano.” She frowned.  “So are you going to turn me in?”

            Amdur sighed. It was Christmas after all. “Fine, I keep Tiddles. You keep Cyrano. But first you’re going to help me with something.”


            “I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.” Judy’s hands danced along the rim of her van’s steering wheel. Their wait at the Bay Street intersection outside Queen’s Park was proving endless.

            “Sorry about the short notice.” Amdur said from the passenger seat. “You’re the only one I could trust.” His stomach burned. He’d worked through the night, fueled by endless espressos – and now this.  “This was not part of the plan, believe me.”

            Behind them, Cyrano yawned, bathing them in sulfurous breath. At least a sturdy metal grille separated him from driver and passenger.

            Sophie snickered from where she sat beside her lion. “Cyrano’s just a big pussy cat, aren’t you, big boy?”

             Judy coughed. “I can’t believe this.  Driving a lion through morning rush hour traffic. In my cat rescue van. A lion!”

             “I already told your buddy, Amdur, here. I can’t leave Cyrano alone. He got out again last night. Where I go, he goes. Or the deal’s off.”

            “What deal?”

            “The less you know about it, the better,” Amdur put in.      

             “Ben, whatever you’re planning, drop it. There are a thousand ways this will screw up. And you, Sophie, you should be thrown off the police force. We’ll all end up in jail. This will kill Mother.”

             “No one is going to jail.” Amdur wished he could feel more certain about that. “And Sophie’s not a cop. She’s a stripper.”

            “Oh, God.” Judy leaned her forehead on the steering wheel. “I’m losing it.”

            “No, you are not losing it. Breathe deep. In, out.” Amdur rested his hand on her back. “Come on now, in and out. You’ve faced down coyotes attacking lost cats. You can do this.”

            “Green light!” Sophie cried.

            Horns blared behind them. Judy tromped on the accelerator. Amdur crashed back against his seat as they tore across the intersection. 

            Cyrano’s claws scrabbled for purchase on the metal floor.  He let out a bellow of fear. Sophie yelled and dragged on his chain. 

            The van swerved left, fish tailed down into darkness and slammed to a halt. Amdur hit the dash. Somehow, miraculously, Judy had steered them into the underground parking garage.

            “Are you crazy!” Sophie shouted. “Cyrano get down! Cyrano!”

            The lion let out an ear-shattering roar. Judy’s screams matched his.

            “Shut up! Shut up or this whole thing is off!” Sophie shouted.

            “Everyone calm down!” Heart thumping, Amdur groped through the glove box and yanked out Judy’s secret stash of scotch. “You, drink this” Judy seized the bottle, tore off the cap and sucked on it like oxygen. “And you, Sophie, control that bloody animal!”

            Sophie glared at him. Cyrano moved restlessly, clinking his chain. They waited in strained silence until after a long huff, the lion dropped back down.

            “We’re wasting precious time.” Amdur checked his Blackberry. “All right, Otto has turned off the security cameras. Down to the freight bay.”

            “OK.” Judy shoved the scotch bottle between her knees. She restarted the van and drove down to the next level.

            They pulled into the deserted cargo bay. Ludmilla appeared on the loading platform.

            Sophie gasped. “A cop!”

            “It’s all right. She’s one of us.” He acknowledged Ludmilla’s thumbs-up. “Sophie and I are off now. Be ready to roll when I text you.” Amdur gave Judy’s arm a squeeze. “Remember: we’re saving the health care of fourteen million people.”

            “Fine, just leave me the scotch.” Judy clutched it to her chest.

            Amdur jumped out of the van. He slid back the side door to release Sophie and Cyrano.

            The lion sniffed the air, wrinkling his face at the smell of exhaust and gasoline. At Sophie’s command he leaped onto the landing of the cargo bay. Amdur and Sophie followed him by way of the stairs.

            Ludmilla gave Cyrano the once-over. “Nice lion. Beautiful animal. You feed him today, little girl?”

            “He’s perfectly tame!”

            “Too bad. Maybe he change his mind when he sees Cott’s fat ass.”

            She unlocked the freight elevator door with a grin. Amdur, Sophie and Cyrano climbed aboard. The door closed in front of them with a loud clang. The elevator lurched into motion, heading toward the top floor and the minister’s office.

            “Got your iPhone?” he asked Sophie. “Let’s run through things one more time.”

            “Leave it! I know what to do.” She frowned. “After today, we’re done. Forever.”


            “If this screws up, I won’t be the only one going to jail. That’s a promise.”

            “It’ll be worth it.” Amdur checked his phone. The message read: “Meeting full.”

            “What meeting?” Sophie read his screen without apology.

            “It means we’re safe for the moment. Everyone on the top floor is gone.”

            “Gone where?”

            “To the farewell Christmas party for Vladimir Nickle, our old deputy minister. In my office, next floor down.” The elevator bumped to a stop. “Here we are.”

             The doors rolled open. Faint sounds of Nickle’s party trickled up the emergency stairwell to their left.  

            Amdur put the freight elevator on hold. He moved down to the end of the hallway and looked round the corner. The empty main corridor stretched down to the glass security barrier fronting the Minister’s office. Outside it stood Cott’s bodyguard.


            “What’s going on?” Sophie pressed up behind him with a rattle of Cyrano’s chain.

            “Cott’s bodyguard is still here.”

            “I’ll take care of him. You hold Cyrano.” She handed Amdur Cyrano’s leash. “Baby, lie down.  I’ll be back soon.”

            The lion grunted and sprawled on the floor. Sophie straightened her police uniform and strolled down to the Minister’s office.

            The bodyguard didn’t speak until she reached the glass barrier. “Something wrong, officer?” Without the normal background office noise, his voice carried.

            “Yes, I have an urgent message for Minister Cott from the Premier’s office,” Sophie said.

            “OK, I’ll give it to him.”

            “No can do. A Christmas card.  From the Tory party. It’s personal.”

            “Oh, right.” The guard sounded weary. “I get it. That kind of Christmas card.”

            “We need some privacy, say fifteen minutes. Can you fix that?”

            “Yeah, I guess.”

            Amdur listened to the man’s footsteps retreat. A heartbeat later he heard the swoosh of the main elevator doors.

            Cyrano howled and leaped up, jerking the lead out of Amdur’s grip. He loped down the corridor with Amdur in pursuit. Sophie was going through the security barrier.

            She stopped, propping up the door with her foot. “You were supposed to hold him!”

            “He got away from me.”

            “Fine, he can come visit the big bad boss.” She picked up the lion’s chain.

            “NO!” Amdur said in a hoarse whisper. “Cott has a cat phobia. If he sees Cyrano, he’ll have a heart attack.”

            “I thought that was the idea. Fine, take Cyrano in there.” She pointed to the women’s washroom directly opposite to where they were standing. “And don’t upset him.” She tossed him the lion’s lead. “Cyrano, walkies!”

            Cyrano whimpered as she disappeared into the Minister’s office. Amdur hauled on his chain.  By the time he’d dragged the lion into the washroom and shut the door, his arms throbbed with pain.

            “Stay there!” Cyrano took shelter under the row of sinks, his tail lashing. Heart thumping, Amdur checked his phone. No messages. The two of them glared at each other.

            Five minutes passed.

            Sophie bragged she could handle any man. He hoped she was right. He creaked open the washroom door and peered out. Not a sound escaped the Minister’s office.

            Cyrano bristling mane bumped against his leg. “Stay there. Don’t come near me.”    The lion curled his flaccid blue upper lip and bared his teeth

            His phone went off with a shrill cry. Judy’s name appeared on the screen.

            “Ben, what’s happening?” Her words sounded slurred. “I’m going crazy down here. The media people, they’re…”

            Cyrano let out a low growl. It did not sound like purring.

              “Shut up, you! No, not you, Judy.”  

            His phone pinged. He cut Judy off. 

            A message.  One word: “Help.”


             I can think of a thousand ways this could go wrong

            He keyed an urgent text to Otto for the code to the security door.

            Five more minutes passed. No reply.

            Another message: “Help!”

            Desperate now, he thought of the fire alarm.

            “Cyrano, get up! Help, Sophie. Come on, get up!” He tugged on the lion’s chain.

            He may as well have been reading Cyrano the ministry’s annual report. The lion merely yawned and rested his massive head on his front paws. 

            “You miserable waste of space! Well, bloody stay there!” He dropped the chain and burst out of the washroom. Where the hell was the fire alarm?

            “Help!” A scream from the Minister’s office.

            “Sophie!” He ran over to the barrier. Banged on the glass. Cyrano, trapped in the washroom, let out an echoing roar.

            Two figures burst through the Minister’s door.  A police officer, her uniform torn, revealing sexy red underwear. And a bulky man in a Japanese schoolgirl uniform brandishing a riding crop. Cott’s pale hairy buttocks and drooping appendage were a sight that seared into memory.

             “Open it! Open up!” Sophie crashed her fists against the glass door.

            Amdur, powerless to help, shouted: “I see you, Cott. There’s a witness.”

            Cott seized Sophie by the throat.  “Gimme that phone, you bitch!” Sophie tried to knee him in the crotch and missed.

            Several things happened at once. The main elevator doors pinged and released a staggering Judy. Sophie thumped Cott in the eye. And Cyrano flew out of the washroom with a terrifying roar.

            He leaped onto the security barrier. His forepaws hung over the top edge. His powerful hind legs scrabbled on the glass pane.

            Otto, for God’s sake!

            Numbers appeared on Amdur’s phone screen. He punched the code into the keypad.  Tore open the security door.

            Sophie burst free. Cott rushed after her, waving the riding crop. Amdur stuck out his foot.    Cott tripped and fell. “Gimme that phone.” He scrabbled after Sophie.

            Amdur kicked the security door shut, cutting off Cott’s escape.

            A slithering sound. Cyrano glided down from the glass barrier.  He bounded toward them.

            Cott let out an unearthly shriek of pure terror.

            “No, Cyrano! No!” Sophie grabbed for his chain. And missed.

            Cyrano’s paw lashed through the air. Cott tumbled to the floor. The lion stood over him, drooling…

            Sophie threw herself at Cyrano. She buried her face in his mane. Stroked his flanks.

            “The media. They’re already here. They’re on their way up.” Judy choked out. “That’s what I tried to tell you.”

            The lion’s pink tongue spilled over his vile-looking fangs. He let out a woof, reluctant to abandon Cott’s fat ass.

            Sophie murmured to him. After what seemed like an eternity, Cyrano stepped away from Cott’s trembling form.

            “Get out of here! Run, Judy!” Amdur pushed her in the direction of the freight elevator. “Sophie, get that animal moving.”

            “Cyrano, gallop!”

            Sophie dashed down the corridor. The lion streaked after her in a four-footed animal run.

            The main elevators pinged. The doors opened. A full media crew pouring out for the Minister’s press conference, lights and video cameras at the ready.           

            Cott staggered up, his garish make-up hideous under his curly blond wig. He saw the reporters and shrieked.


            Amdur beat a hasty retreat back to the freight elevator. A clamor of voices and running feet rose behind him. No time to stop for a look. He unlocked the elevator and got it moving.

            “Are you all right?”

            Sophie nodded. She finished buttoning up her police uniform and handed him her phone. “I want that back. And this never happened.”

            “Fair enough. Give me the keys to the van, Judy. You’re in no condition to drive.”  She handed them over.

            The elevator stopped. Ludmilla opened the door and signaled they were still in the clear.

            He passed Judy’s keys to Sophie. “Leave the van outside my place. You know where I live.”

            “Where are you going?”                    

             “To Nickle’s farewell Christmas party.” 

            Back upstairs, he and Judy were engulfed by the crowd of partying civil serpents who spilled out of Amdur’s office, occupying every cubicle on the floor. 

            “I’m drunk,” Judy whispered.

            “No worries. So is everybody else.”

            Amdur located Otto by the buffet table . Potluck at the Ministry never failed to provide a feast and Otto’s paper plate was nearly folded in half under the weight of food. 

            “I especially recommend the lasagna, doctor.”

            “Here.” Amdur slipped Otto Sophie’s phone.

            “Be back, one minute.” Otto set down his plate and disappeared. 

            Amdur turned his attention to the wine table for a much-needed drink. He filled plates with food for him and Judy.

            Ten minutes later, they heard shouts.  Phones and computer screens flashed on around them.

            “It’s Cott!” someone yelled. “Holy shit! Take a look at this.”

            “He’s outside,” another person cried from the window. “No kidding. He’s running down Bay Street. There’s a TV crew after him.”

            Food and wine were temporarily forgotten in the ensuing shock and awe. Otto returned and passed Sophie’s phone back to Amdur.

            “How did you do that?” Amdur asked.

            “Oh, a global internet tour via Mauritius. Untraceable. Better you should not ask.” Otto helped himself to Christmas cake.


            On Christmas night, Amdur settled back in his study, a glass of cognac in his hand and Tiddles on his lap, to watch his favorite holiday movie, It’s a Wonderful Life.  It certainly is, he thought. This is the best Christmas I’ve had in years.

            The news story of Cott’s resignation still had legs two weeks later. The video showcasing his misadventures had millions of hits on websites throughout the world. American comedy shows trumpeted his antics with actors dressed up as moose and beavers.   For once Canadians weren’t boring.

            Amdur gave Tiddles a pat, happily digesting the Christmas dinner he’d enjoyed earlier with Judy and her mother. On the mantle over the fireplace, stood two postcards, one from Las Vegas, the other from Mauritius.

            Snowflakes drifted slowly past the windows of his flat.  And if he stared long and hard enough into Riverdale Park, he imagined they formed the dancing figure of a lion.


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NEWS FLASH! Big congrats to Melissa and Mad!

Melissa Yi

Big congrats to our Derringer Winner, Mme Melissa Yi, for yet another amazing achievement. Her story, “Rapunzel in the Desert”, is nominated for this year’s Aurora Award, sponsored by the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association!

Melissa’s story was published in On Spec Magazine, Issue 122.

And if you are in Ottawa tomorrow, do stop by and check out the preview of Melissa’s play, Terminally Ill, based on the third book of her Dr. Hope Sze mystery series.

Preview will be Saturday, May 13th, 6:30 pm at Lab O.

Mme Mad
Erik De Souza

Mme Mad was interviewed by Erik De Souza of Crime Writers of Canada. Erik is chatting with all of the nominees for the CWC awards – close to 50 authors!

Mme Mad is nominated in two categories for her short story, “Must Love Dogs- or You’re Gone” and her novella, “Amdur’s Ghost”.



And on May 15th, our free story coincidentally is by Mme Mad.

Do enjoy that comic adventures of Dr. Benjamin Amdur, beleaguered civil servant, in “Amdur’s Cat”. It is part of our very first Mesdames anthology, Thirteen.

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It’s spring and the Mesdames have come roaring back from winter with events, publications and even better, terrific recognition from our writing communities!

Do come out and meet us in person at our many events in May and June!



Mme Melissa Yi

Mme Melissa Yi’s is the winner of this year’s Short Mystery Fiction Society’s Derringer Award in the “short” Short Story category for her story “My Two Legs”. It appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Issue September/October 2022.

“My Two-Legs” is told from the point of view of a loyal dog desperate to save his human, his “two-legs”, who’s been the victim of a terrible crime. Melissa based her hero on her family’s beloved late dog.

Medals will be given out to the winners of the four Derringer categories at Bouchercon 2023 in San Diego.

And Melissa’s reworked fairy tale, “White Snow and the Seven Dreams” placed third for the Joy Kogawa Award for Fiction, beating out over 200 entries!


The Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem hit it out of the park this year with four nominations for the CWC Awards of Excellence, three for Best Short Story and one for Best Novella! And two of the stories are from our fifth anthology, In the Spirit of 13, edited by Donna Carrick and published by Carrick Publishing.

The winners of the Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence will be announced on Thursday, May 25th, 12 noon via video. Here’s the link: Crime Writers of Canada – Crime Writers of Canada – Home (

Sylvia Warsh’s chilling thriller, “The Nature of Things”, was published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Issue May/June 2022. A divorced man vacationing at a cottage learns that spying on his neighbors and fantasizing about them can prove fatal.

Blair Keetch’s story, “To Catch a Kumiho”, is part of In the Spirit of 13. Korean mythology tells of a fox-tailed demon or kumiho. Little does the P.I. hero of Blair’s story suspect that he’s about to encounter one in human form…

M. H. Callway has two nominations. The first is “Must Love Dogs – or You’re Gone” for Best Short Story. In this black comedy, Frieda must work off her late ex-husband’s debt to a Russian gangster in a dog grooming salon. It appeared in Gone, An Anthology of Crime Stories, Red Dog Press, November 2022.

Her novella, Amdur’s Ghost, is also part of In the Spirit of 13. In this adventurous tale, Dr. Benjamin Amdur, newly appointed to the most obscure public health department in Ontario, is forced to search for his missing predecessor by the new Minister of Health. With no leads, he consults the town’s self-proclaimed medium.


Mme Rosalind Place‘s story “Too Close to the Edge” will appear in the horror anthology, Dastardly Damsels, Crystal Lake Publishing. Publication date to be announced.

Melodie Campbell’s new book, The Merry Widow Murders, published by Cormorant Books, will be released on Saturday, May 13th . The official launch event is at MOTIVE, Crime and Mystery Festival, Toronto, June 2, 2023.

1928 AT SEA: Lucy Revelstoke, unconventional widow of a young British lord and daughter of a Canadian mobster, is crossing the Atlantic on a state-of-the-art ocean liner. Rubbing elbows with the era’s elite and reconnecting with her husband’s aristocratic friend, Tony, should make for a swell trip. But a dead body dumped in Lucy’s stateroom the first night of the voyage threatens to capsize the new life she’s built for herself.

Who is this dead man? And how did he get into her room?

Together with Tony, plus her pickpocket-turned-maid Elf, Lucy rushes to investigate, just steps ahead of the authorities who will certainly dig too deeply into her dodgy Canadian past.

Melodie’s book is already getting great reviews. Maureen Jennings, author of the Murdoch Mysteries and the Paradise Café series, writes:

“Delightful is one of the first words that come to mind. The 1920s shipboard setting is beautifully observed; the plot will keep you guessing and the heroine, is … well …delightful. Not to be missed.”



Toronto Public Library,  Ashdale-Gerrard Branch: On Thursday, May 4th at 7 pm, Mmes Lisa De Nikolits, Rosemary McCracken, Lynne Murphy and M. Blair Keetch will be sharing their crime writing journeys in the program, So You Want to Be a Crime Writer? Moderated by Mme M. H. Callway. The branch is located at 1432 Gerrard Street East. More details in the link below:

So you want to be a crime writer? : Gerrard/Ashdale : Program : Toronto Public Library


Word on The Street takes place at Queen’s Park Crescent, May 27 and 28th, from 11 am to 5 pm at Queen’s Park Crescent, Toronto.  WOTS features over 100 Canadian and Indigenous authors and Canada’s largest book and magazine marketplace. The Mesdames will be sharing a table with Mme Caro Soles.   Mme Lisa De Nikolits is a featured author at Word on the Street on Sunday, May 28th.

We will be posting details of our table location and the names of the Mmes and Monsieurs attending as soon as these become available. Annual Festival | The Word On The Street Toronto


Toronto International Festival of Authors

MOTIVE Crime and Mystery Festival returns this year from June 2 to 4th at Harbourfront in Toronto. See this link for information on guest authors and tickets.  MOTIVE Crime & Mystery Festival (

Mme Melodie Campbell will be a featured author.  The launch of her 17th book, The Merry Widow Murders, will take place immediately after Opening Ceremonies on June 2, as part of the festival. Maureen Jennings will be in conversation with Melodie.

Melodie will be conducting a Masterclass in comedy writing on Sunday, June 4th, 1-2:30 pm: “Kill them with Comedy!  How to write Humour into your Crime Stories.”  And she will be interviewing renowned author Linwood Barclay.

Crime Writers of Canada will be hosting a table where author members can sell their books. Readings by CWC authors are also scheduled. Several Mmes will be partaking in these activities and we’ll be keeping you posted on the details.



Lynne Murphy

Mme Lynne Murphy will be hosting Crime Writing in a Cold Climate, a series of 4 virtual lectures on Canadian crime writers. The lectures are for Senior Adult Services in Toronto Annex and will take place on Friday afternoons from June 2nd to 23rd, 1:30 to 3:00pm.

Lynne is having a guest writer each week. M.H. Callway will speak about police procedurals, Rosemary McCracken about cozies and Melodie Campbell about thrillers. True crime author, Lorna Poplak, will talk about her research on historical Canadian crime. This is a ticketed event.


Marian Misters

Great news! Mme Marian Misters announced that Sleuth of Baker Street Bookstore in now a used mystery bookstore. What better place to find that rare mystery you’re eager to read? Sleuth’s will also order any book on request. The store will be open Friday to Sunday, every second week from 12 noon to 4 pm as of April 21st. For more details, please visit Sleuth’s website at

Peter Robinson, was one of Canada’s greatest crime writers. He won six CWC awards for his writing and his Inspector Banks books became a hit series on ITV (UK). More than that Peter was friend and mentor to many emerging Canadian crime writers, including some of us Mesdames.

Sadly Peter passed away in October, 2022. His Celebration of Life will take place on Thursday, May 18th, 6 to 9 pm at Balmy Beach Club, 360 Lake Front, Toronto. (Foot of Beech Avenue, south of Queen St. East).

It will also be the launch of his last book in the Inspector Banks series, Standing in the Shadows.

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NEWS FLASH! Melissa Yi Derringer Winner!

Melissa Yi

Huge congratulations to Mme Melissa Yi for winning this year’s Derringer for Best Short Short Story! “My Two-Legs” was published in 2022 in the September/October issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

In her moving story, a loyal dog strives to rescue his wounded human, his “two-legs”, who has been the victim of a crime. Melissa based her animal hero on her family’s beloved late dog.

AND Melissa’s re-imagined fairy story, “White Story and Seven Dreams”, placed third for the Joy Kogawa Award for Fiction!

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NEWS FLASH! CWC Awards of Excellence Shortlists

Great News for the Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem!

Delighted that two works from our latest anthology, In the Spirit of 13, have been nominated for the CWC Awards of Excellence.

M. H. Callway’s light-hearted satire, “Amdur’s Ghost”, is a finalist for Best Novella. And Blair Keetch’s eerie thriller, “To Catch a Kumiho” is short-listed for Best Short Story.

A big thank you to publisher and editor, Donna Carrick, Carrick Publishing, to copy editor, Ed Piwowarczyk and cover designer, Sara Carrick, for making our anthology a book to be proud of.

From L to R below: M. H. Callway, Blair Keetch, Donna Carrick and Ed Piwowarczyk.

Sylvia Warsh

Two short stories by the Mesdames are also finalists for the CWC Award of Excellence for Best Short Story.

Sylvia Warsh’s scary thriller, “The Natural Order of Things”, which appeared in the May/June issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and

M. H. Callway’s comedy story, “Must Love Dogs – or You’re Gone” in GONE, An Anthology of Crime Stories, Red Dog Press.

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APRIL STORY: There Be Dragons by Jane Burfield

13 Claws Anthology

Our April story, “There Be Dragons”, is from our third anthology, 13 Claws. All the tales in the collection involve animals…and crime. Many are our dear companions, cats and dogs; others are perhaps, as in Jane’s story, a little unusual.

Jane is a master short fiction author. Her work has won and been short-listed for many awards, including The Bony Pete and the CWC Award of Excellence.

“There Be Dragons” was a finalist for the 2017 CWC Award for Best Short Story. In this story, three children, grieving the loss of their mother, stumble on their strange and mystical heritage.


By Jane Petersen Burfield

For a murder, it was both necessary and satisfying. No one had deserved this fate more. No one could threaten her family and get away with it.

She swam in the darkening water as the sky glowed in the west. Soon the fireflies would dance, and she could forget, just for a while, what she had lost and what she had become.

“There be dragons,” Katie read aloud from the illustration. As she squinted at the map in the old book, the creatures that illustrated the manuscript swirled. A soft green glow lit the map from within. Startled, Katie let the book slip from her fingers onto the dusty desktop.

“We’re not supposed to touch that book,” Georgie mumbled. Ever since their mother had died, he’d spoken in soft whispers.

“I know, Georgie.” She sat in the chair behind the carved oak desk and turned over another page. “Where do you think the dragons lived? I’m not sure I believe in dragons. Maybe they lived a long time ago.”

“Of course, there are dragons,” Georgie murmured. “Mother told us about them. She showed me one once. I remember going out to the garden with her. We ran around the pond. There was a splashing sound, and a dark shadow came out of the water. A man came out of the trees. Mother pushed me behind her. There was a flash of light, like lightning. I think the man ran away.”

“Did you dream that?” Katie closed the book, sending a gentle swirl of dust from the neglected desk flying around the library.

“No,” Georgie said hesitantly. “No! I remember. I remember the eyes in the pond. Something chased the man, and then disappeared. I think it was a dragon.”

“Well, we could use a dragon now. Creepy Gerry is here bothering Emma. He keeps turning up wherever she is. He follows her. And Dad isn’t even aware of it.”

“Emma is old enough to look after herself.” Georgie peered into the forbidden cupboard in the desk where the book had been.

“No, she’s not,” Katie said. “She’s only 17. And he keeps going after her.”

“We’ll watch out for her, Katie, and Grandmother Lowe will be here soon. She’s scary enough to take care of anything. We’d better get downstairs before Dad finds us up here. He’ll be mad if he knows we opened the secret cupboard.”

“Okay, Georgie.” She put the forbidden book back and locked the cupboard door, closing the outer panel in the desk so it couldn’t be seen. “I’ll put the key back in Father’s drawer later when’s he’s having coffee in the garden.”

“I’ll go out with him, Katie. I can keep him away and I love the fireflies.”

“You love that garden. Lilacs, lilies, crickets and the fireflies in the trees. Mother loved it too, I remember.”

“I really like fireflies the most. They are magical.” Georgie headed for the door, listening carefully for anyone outside. In the darkened hall, they turned toward their bedrooms.


Peter Drake walked around the dining room to look out on the stone patio. Almost time to summon the kids for supper. Their large stone house sat well back from Barrie Road at the end of a wooded drive. It was very similar to the family home they had left in Wales, complete with dragon gargoyles under the eaves. Now, in the late afternoon, sunlight made the dining room and patio outside a drowsy haven.

He stared at the pond, sitting like a jewel amongst the trees. In certain lights, he swore he could see Maria, but dusk was the best time. The woods were silhouetted against the darkening sky, and the fairy lights danced. He had always loved the little glow bugs that drew him outside. Maria swore they were magical, but he had scoffed at her. Still, unexplained things went on in the garden. Mysteries.

Ginny, their housekeeper, banged the gong for dinner. She loved banging that gong. Ginny had driven Maria mad with the noise, but she had kept their house and lives tidy. How could he deny such a small source of joy to his inherited help?

At dinner, Emma was missing.

“Where’s Emma?” Peter asked. “I thought she was home from her weekend with her friends.”

“She’s tired, Peter. Asked to stay upstairs. I’ll take her a tray later,” Ginny said as she served plates of salad.

Katie stabbed at a crouton, and it skittered across the tablecloth. “She thinks Cousin Gerry is still here. He left this afternoon, thank heavens. I hope he doesn’t come back.”

“Gerald asked to visit,” Peter said. “We don’t have many relatives. I want you to know both sides of your family.”

“We know enough about your family, Dad. We don’t need to see Gerry.” Georgie buttered one of Ginny’s soft dinner rolls, ignoring his salad.

“You don’t know everything about our family. But I’ll tell you more someday when I think you are ready. Now, what did you learn today?”

Living in the country meant that Katie and Georgie had to bus to school and could rarely invite friends over. They had to watch the news or look up a new subject on the computer every day to answer their father’s hated ritual question over dinner. He asked every night, trying to be a good parent.

“We learned about China, Dad.” Georgie passed the butter to Katie, who was pointing at it as inconspicuously as she could so her father wouldn’t get annoyed. “And we looked up some Chinese myths. On Friday, Miss Andrews showed us pictures of dragons in a really neat book. She said they represent power. They were amazing!”

“Dragons are common in many myths and fairy tales. Katie, don’t manhandle the rolls.” Peter turned back to Georgie. “There are beautiful illustrations in the Lang fairy-tale series. I particularly like the ones in The Green Fairy Book. I’ll have to find you my copy in the library.”

“Sometimes, Dad, I wish they still existed. I almost believe they do.”

“Georgie, we talked about that. Evening shadows can make us believe almost anything. But you know they are just shadows.”

“But, Dad, I saw one last year. I know I did!”

“Georgie, you have a vivid imagination, just like your mother.”

Katie and Georgie looked at their dad in surprise. Peter rarely talked about their mother, and it had been more than two years since her death.

After wiping his chin with his napkin, Peter turned to Katie. “Now what did you learn today?”

She winced and began to recite the trivia she had looked up.


After dinner, while Ginny cleaned up, Katie headed outside along the path off the patio. The water in the pond seemed flat black, reflecting the fairy dance of firefly light. She walked farther around the pond as sunset shone through the trees. She wasn’t worried about finding her way back to the house after dark. Unusually good night vision was a family trait, her mother had told her. And the house would glow with the lights from the family’s rooms.

She looked into the water, hoping to see the shape she had seen so many times before. Tonight, there was nothing there, or nothing she could see. Katie sat down on the bench installed in memory of her mother. She stroked the carved figures on the wooden side, and thought about her. A ripple on the surface of the darkening water drew her eyes away from the silhouette of the house. As the dark waters started to stir, her hopes grew.

“There you are Katie. I thought I’d join you on your walk.” The water’s surface grew flat again as her father appeared.

Katie took her father’s hand and asked, “What really happened that night? The night Mother died?”

Her dad’s hand clenched slightly. “Why do you want to know, sweetheart? I’ve told you what I can.”

“You never talk about her or about what happened. All I remember is hearing something across the water. And you ran out. Georgie ran behind you, and I tried to stop him. It was getting very dark. I saw you struggling with someone. He broke away. And then something reared up out of the water, hit the man and swept him in. Something very large. Where was Mother? What happened to her?”

Her dad squeezed her hand. “I know it’s confusing. Let’s go back to the house.” They turned away from the water, and started to walk up the patio to the house. “I think it’s time, Katie, for me to tell you what I know. I’m not sure Georgie is old enough yet. Emma knows some of it. We’ll find a time to talk tomorrow when we won’t be interrupted.”

As Katie glanced back at the water, a flicker of light beneath the surface lit a large body in its depths. More flickers of light matched the fireflies above.


School the next day seemed interminable. Katie longed to be home for the planned meeting. Emma was waiting for her in the kitchen with juice and Ginny’s ginger cookies when she arrived home. Being away at boarding school had changed Emma. She now wanted to spend time with her little sister.

“Do you think he’ll tell us about Mother, Em?” Katie asked.

“I hope so, Katie. Don’t bug him for details. This is hard for him. You don’t see him every night after you and Georgie go to bed. He sits looking out the window at the pond. He can sit there for hours.”

“Did he ever tell you what happened? I was young then, just 10, and Georgie was very little. He never said anything to us.”

Emma refilled Katie’s juice glass. “He rarely talks about Mother. Or the creature.”

“So you believe in the creature, too?”

“I do, Katie. I do. It protects us. But the creature knows people are scared of it, so it doesn’t often let itself be seen.”

“What happened that night? What did you see?”

“I’m not sure, Katie. I saw something, but I’m not sure what. A man grabbed Mother outside on the patio. He dragged her around the pond. Then something hit him as he held her. I swear it looked like an animal claw. Then it got really confusing.”

The girls heard the front door open and their father call for Ginny. They listened to him settle in the dining room, where they knew he would be looking out the window, even though dusk wouldn’t fall for another few hours. They looked at each other, and went quietly to join him.

“Hello, my little ones. How was your day?” He poured himself a whiskey.

“The usual, Dad,” said Emma.

“Same here” said Katie. “Are we going to talk about Mom before Georgie gets home from soccer?”

“Yes, I guess so. We should.” He walked over to close the dining room door, and sat at the table, his back to the windows. “I’m not sure where to start. There are things about your mother’s side of the family that few people know. But someone found out, and Maria had to be protected.”

“Who threatened her? You’ve never told us this,” Emma said.

“Your mother was…special. Her family goes back a long way in Wales. They were never rulers, but ruler makers. And they had some unusual abilities.”

“Like what, Dad?” Katie asked.

“They were—they are—deeply connected to the old world, to the magical side that most people have forgotten about or scoff at. They understand magic. And because of that, they are in danger.”

“So that’s why we left Wales.” Emma held Katie’s hand tightly in her own.

Peter got up from his chair and came around the shining wood table to stand near them. Taking both their hands, he said, “Yes. Your mother had to leave for her safety. We brought your grandmother and your great-grandmother with us. We thought we’d all be safer over here, but they found us. They sent a man to try to kidnap your mother.”

“Who are they?” Emma asked.

“I’m not sure. I believe they belong to another old family who knows the secrets of power. The man that night tried to capture your mother. She decided she needed to keep you safe.”

“How?” Katie turned to look at the pond.

“Your mother knew you would be in danger if they knew she was still alive.” Peter looked at the girls. “What I’m going to tell you now is a secret, a very important secret. Your mother vanished to protect you. The police believe that she fell or was pushed into the pond, but they never found her body. They only found blood on a rock nearby and ripped material from the dress she was wearing on the rocks and bushes where the water cascades down to the lake. They think her body was swept out of the pond into the lake. The water runs pretty fast over the cliff, especially when it rains.”

“What about the man? Did he drown in the pond, too?”

Peter shifted in his chair, to half face the water. “They never found him. The police thought he may have survived. That he climbed out of the pond at the far end.”

“But so could Mother!” Emma got up to stand by the fireplace where she could see his half-turned face.

“We thought it best for your sake to say she died. I don’t know if we were right.”

“Is Mother still alive?” Katie sat with her shoulders coat hanger-straight, clutching the arms of her chair, looking at her father with wide-open eyes.

“No one is to know what I’ve told you. Including Georgie. He’s too young. You all will be in great danger if this becomes known.”

They heard the front door open, and Ginny’s cheerful voice bounce down from the front hall. “Hello. Anyone here? Oh, there you are.” She peeked into the dining room. “I’ll put the kettle on and make a quick dinner.”

When she’d gone, Peter said: “We’ll talk more about this another time, girls. It’s important that you know. Remember, keep the information secret.”


Katie was glad to go upstairs with Emma. Their mother was, seemingly, alive. And if she hadn’t died, where was she? When could they see her?

“Katie, I want to show you something.” Emma pulled her sister into her bedroom. “After mother disappeared, I found her jewelry box hidden at the back of her closet. And in it, I found this.” She held up a very old necklace—a dark red stone shining from an intricately woven gold shield, hanging on a long rose-gold chain. “I think this is what the intruder wanted. I don’t know what to do with it now. I’m nervous to leave it in the house.”

“Wow, Em.” The necklace shone with more brilliance than the window light should have given it. Katie examined it, holding the chain so the pendant flashed. “But why did you take it?”

“I wanted something that was Mother’s. Sometimes I wear it under my top.”

“Be careful, Em. Put it back in the closet. Dad might look for it now that he’s told us about Mother.”

“No, he won’t. He doesn’t like to look at anything that reminds him of her. He doesn’t even go into the living room, because her picture above the fireplace makes him sad.”

Katie shook her head and walked over to Emma’s window. “I don’t know what to think about what Dad told us. If Mother is alive, where is she?”

She looked out at the pond, but nothing was stirring.


Peter, too, looked out toward the pond in late afternoon sun. Had he been wise to tell the girls? But if anything happened to him, they needed to know.

He knew she was in the water, benign and protective, but he had never seen her. The ability to see the magic was given only to Maria’s daughters. Neither he nor Georgie could see her. He could hear her, and occasionally he saw a shadow move. Nothing more.


Dinner was very silent, except for Georgie talking about the upcoming school play. Peter for once did not question them about what they’d learned that day.

After dinner, Katie waited in the dark hallway outside the dining room. When Peter stepped onto the patio, and walked toward the sunset-lit trees around the pond, she followed him.

Fireflies, lively tonight, hovered between tree branches and above the pond. And in the water, light seemed to shine upward.

“Ah, Katie. It’s a beautiful evening. I thought some fresh air might clear my head.”

“May I walk with you, Dad? I’ve finished my homework.”

“Of course. How are you feeling about what I told you today?”

“Why is all this happening to our family? Why are the people coming here, coming after us? And where is Mother now?”

“They think your mother—and now perhaps you and Emma—know about something they want. It’s hard to explain. The women in our family are special. They have special sight, and special abilities.” He took Katie’s hand. “Have you ever seen anything…peculiar…in the pond? A creature?”

Katie looked up at her dad. “I know there is something in the pond. I’ve never seen it clearly, but I know it’s there.”

“You do have the special sight, then, Katie.”

“Georgie says it saved us from the strange man before Mother disappeared.”

“I was surprised when Georgie said he saw something. Usually only the women have the sight. Maybe young children do, too.”

“Where did this creature come from, Dad? I’m not afraid of it.”

“The creature is a female, like you and Emma, and your mother. It’s part of your heritage, your Welsh family.”

“Can Emma see her?”

“Yes, she has the sight, too. You both see many things other people don’t. Have you ever tried to talk to the creature?”

“Sort of, Dad. Once I sang a lullaby Grandma Lowe used to sing to us. One that Mother knew. There was a ripple. It was too dark to see, but I wasn’t afraid.”

“You were singing to your great-grandmother. We brought her with us from Wales, but she got very sick on the journey, and so she left her human form. She’s the creature, the dragon in the pond. She is powerful and protects you, indeed all of us. There is still danger for her, though. Few people believe that dragons still exist, but…”

“Why do those other people want to hurt us?” Katie slipped her hand back into her father’s as they reached the far side of the pond. From there, the sun reflected on and through the water, and she saw the large, dark shape, followed by a smaller shape.

Peter stopped and looked intently at her. “There is a book, a valuable book that belongs to our family. We brought it with us from Wales, and I hid it in the house. It’s about dragons. In the historian world, it would cause a sensation.”

“I know about the book, Dad. It’s beautiful. The pages shine.”

Peter glanced quizzically at her, but continued. “There’s also a pendant made from a rough garnet set in Welsh gold. It goes with the book. Strange things happen when the two are close to each other, so I hid them in two different places. I think that’s what the men are after. I don’t know how they found out about them, because only our family knows.”

Katie and Peter sat down on the memorial bench, Peter’s fingers automatically searching to rub the inscription to Maria.

“Did you tell Cousin Gerry about it, Dad?”

“Yes, unfortunately. Yes, I did.”

“Dad, I don’t know how to say this. I’ve seen him in the upper hallway, several times, where he has no right to be. He spies on us. And he follows Emma. I don’t like him at all. Neither do Emma and Georgie.”

Peter sighed and looked into the water. “Gerry’s never been as reliable as he could be. But I thought, I hoped, he would protect our family if need be. It’s possible he’s behind it. I hope not. But I don’t know.”

“Is there anyone else who knows?”

“Just your Grandma Lowe. I’ve left a letter for our lawyer in case something happens to me. Other than that, we’ve told no one. I think Ginny suspects something, but I don’t want to put her in danger. She’s a good woman. I’ll be glad when Grandma Lowe returns from Wales.”

The water rippled, and a black tail tip emerged.

“It’s time.” Peter stood up and brought out a silver whistle. “Would you like to meet your great-grandmother, Katie? I mean, meet her again. You knew her in Wales when you were very little.”

“I remember her. Oh, yes, Dad. I would.”

Peter blew one long note on the whistle. Suddenly, a dark green head emerged from the water, followed by a scaled back, bright wings and a pointed tail.

“Margaret, here is your great-granddaughter, Katie.”

The creature pulled herself up onto a rock, and spoke in a gravelly voice. “Hello, little one. You have grown since I last talked with you.”

“Great-grandmother! I am so glad to see you. I wish Mother were here, too.”

The dragon moved closer to Katie and her father. An ethereal wing wrapped around the girl’s shoulders, nudging Peter aside. He looked startled, but then moved back.

“Well, little one, your mother is not too far away. I tell her how you are and what you are doing. She so much wants to come back to you. But your father and I decided that for everyone’s safety, she should stay hidden. Like the locket and the book. I know you have seen both. Keep them separate, and keep them safe.”

“Margaret, I wish I could see you.” Peter looked in the direction of the rock beside the bench. “I’m grateful for your protection of the children.”

“I will always protect my little ones, Peter. Don’t worry.”

Katie watched as she unwrapped her wing. She slid off the rock, and back into the water. Just before her head went under, she said, “Remember, keep the treasures safe. I’ll be here.”


The rest of the week slipped by quickly. Emma and Katie would quietly ask their dad questions, but he rarely answered them, pretending Ginny or Georgie were about to enter the room.

On Thursday night, Ginny called Peter to the phone.

“Hi, Peter. It’s Gerry. I’d like to come down.”

“Gerry. We’re busy this weekend. Perhaps another time?”

“I need to see you. Now.”

“Sorry. As I said, we are busy. The kids are in a play at school. Before their holidays begin.” Peter listened as the receiver slammed down. He hoped not to hear from Gerry again.


Katie was glad the school year was almost over. On Friday afternoon, she went upstairs to put on her costume and asked Emma for help with her makeup.

Emma applied mascara to Katie’s lashes, and stood back to study her handiwork. “Beautiful. You are growing up fast.”

“I wish Mother could see me.” Katie looked into the old dresser mirror, through silvered reflections, imagining what she would look like in a few years. Her mother’s dress, hemmed up with tape and held in by a belt, outlined her maturing shape. Her copper hair had darkened over the winter, but the summer sun would lighten it back to a blaze. Her green eyes were her mother’s color. She glowed, much like the afternoon sun outside the window.

Trailing skirts just a bit too long for her, Katie stepped down the stairs, surprised to see her father at the bottom. “You look so much like your mother, Katie. I’m not surprised you have her gift.”

“Thanks, Dad.” She paused on the stairs, aware of a new feeling. Power? Could it be power? “We should go. Is Ginny in the car?”

“Yes, ready to go.” Peter called up the stairs. “Georgie!”

“Coming, Dad.” The small boy tumbled past Katie on the stairs. His old-fashioned suit, expertly recut by Ginny from Peter’s old jacket, made him look like he had stepped out of a movie. “I’m excited.”

“I know, son.” Peter locked the front door, and they left for the school.

Nearby, watching them go, was a man dressed in black.


The play—a reenactment of village life 150 years ago during Canada’s Confederation—was a success. As the audience clapped for their own children, if not for other cast members, Katie fought an urge to get home. She didn’t want to stay for the reception and the congratulations, the groups of neighbors gossiping, the kids running to burn off energy after sitting still for an hour. She just wanted to go home.

After a few minutes of lemonade, cookies and chat, she whispered to Peter that something was wrong. He looked at her, this little die-cut version of Maria, and knew they must go. Ginny rounded up Georgie while Emma, Katie and Peter headed outside to their car.

The drive through the darkening woods was silent. Even Georgie seemed to feel anxious now. As they turned down their long driveway, a light shone from the far side of the house.

Peter told everyone to stay in the car. He got out and ran around to the back. When he didn’t return, Emma scrambled out the door, followed by Katie. Ginny kept Georgie with her inside the car.

The girls ran around the house to the patio. The dining room door stood open, the glass in shards on the ground. Inside, Peter was wrestling with a man.

Katie tried to run in to help. Emma held her back, but Katie broke free. She shot inside and leaped on the man’s back. He tried to shift her, but she hung on. Peter hit him hard. Katie and the man fell to the carpet.

Peter pulled Katie up and hugged her. She could feel him shaking. He collapsed in a chair, while Georgie and Ginny burst into the dining room. Emma dialed 911 for the police.

“What happened? Who is he?” Georgie pushed away from Ginny and tried to pull off the man’s mask off before Peter grabbed him.

On the floor, the intruder groaned, then stirred.

“Find some rope, or duct tape,” Peter ordered. “Emma, did you call the police? Katie, go to the front to wait for them. Georgie, stay back.”

Suddenly, the intruder scrambled up and dug into his pants pocket. A glittering knife appeared in his right hand. He lunged for Georgie and grabbed him. Keeping an eye on Peter, he dragged Georgie by the boy’s collar across the room to the outer door. “Don’t come any closer, Peter. Give me the book and the necklace and I’ll leave. I’ll keep Georgie with me. Give them to me or he’ll die.”

“Gerry!” Peter recognized the intruder’s voice. “Why are you doing this? These are my children!”

“Money, Peter. Just money.” He yanked Georgie to his feet with his left hand. “You have valuable things. With Maria dead, you don’t need them anymore. And I do.”

“I can’t believe you’d betray us like this, threaten my kids.”

“You heard me.” Gerry moved back, a firm hold on Georgie. “Give me the book and the necklace or Georgie will get hurt.” He brandished the knife. “I mean it.”

Suddenly, Georgie kicked backward hard, striking Gerry in the shin. Gerry yelled in pain and loosened his grip on the boy’s collar. Georgie broke free and rushed out the dining room door.

Katie watched Georgie run toward the bench on the far side of the pond with a cursing Gerry, knife still in hand, in close pursuit. She rushed after them. Georgie and Gerry were beside the water, with Gerry closing the gap between him and the boy. Then, to her amazement, she saw a large golden claw come out of the water. Gerry turned, his eyes widened, and he dropped the knife. The claw reached up, hooked Gerry and dragged him under.

Katie screamed. Light shot up into the sky like fireworks. The water surface quivered with the struggle beneath.

Peter and Emma came running up to her. Katie could only point. Georgie shouted about Gerry in the now-quiet pond.

“Georgie, listen to me,” Peter said, spotting the knife and pocketing it. “The police will be here soon. Tell them Gerry fell into the water.”

“Yes, sir,” said Georgie.

He turned to Katie. “You understand, don’t you, Katie? Do not tell them what you saw. Say the same thing.”

Katie nodded. Looking at the water surface, now lit by fireflies, she couldn’t believe anything had happened. The surface, as smooth and dark as oil, reflected the last of the sunlight. At the far end of the pond, she saw two dark shapes emerge from the water and, with a swirl of wings, lift into the sky.

She heard running footsteps, and knew the police were close. And as they arrived at the pond, she saw two magnificent dragons, one large, and one smaller, fly through the twilight, and out over the trees. She shivered as fireflies danced around her. She knew she had just seen her mother and knew she would see her again. Then she could see nothing but the last of the twilight, shining through the trees.


Later that night, after having Ginny’s restorative cups of cocoa, the girls relaxed in Emma’s bedroom. Emma hugged Katie and pulled the garnet pendant out from under her blouse. Soft light infused the space around them.

“That was quite a day, Katie.”

“I’m so glad it’s over. I’m glad Mother is alive. I’m glad there’s some magic in the world. Most of all, I’m glad we’re safe again.” Katie settled back down on the bed.

The sisters smiled as the pendant lit up, fire-like. They would keep it and the book safe. They would keep their family safe.

And soon, Katie knew, they would see what happened when they put the pendant and the dragon book together.


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At the international Shetland Noir Conference, Mme Lisa de Nikolits will moderate a panel, When you don’t know who to trust, with thriller writers Shari Lapena, Gilly MacMillan and Louise Mangos to explore how they use the characters, settings and events of family life to add a dark twist to their tales.

Travelling in time
As a futuristic thriller writer, Lisa also joins historical crime authors, David Bishop and Janet Oakley, to discuss with moderator Dr Jacky Collins (Dr Noir), how they create crime time travel.

Lisa de Nikolits
Lisa de Nikolits


Another Canadian is a Derringer finalist: Marcelle Dubé, whose story, “Tethered”, is in SinC West’s new anthology, Crime Wave 2: Women of a Certain Age: A Canada West Anthology, edited by our very own Mme Jayne Bernard!

Jayne Barnard
Jayne Barnard
Posted in Anthologies, Awards/Achievements, events, News | Leave a comment


Happy Spring, Dear Readers!

April not only opens awards season but also offers new opportunities for growth and ways the Mesdames can reach out to you.


Congratulations to Mme Madeleine Harris-Callway. Her story, “Wisteria Cottage”, is part of the Malice Domestic Anthology, Murder Most Traditional!


Mmes Madeleine Harris-Callway and Rosemary McCracken will be reading at Toronto’s Noir at the Bar, on April 27th at 7:00 PM at the Duke of Kent pub, Upstairs, 2315 Yonge St. at Roehampton.

Madeleine Harris-Callway
Rosemary McCracken
Lisa de Nikolits

Mme Lisa de Nikolitis is giving a reading at Hirut Restaurant, 2050 Danforth Avenue on Sunday, April 2nd at 2:00 PM. This is part of the Bright Lit, Big City series.

Melissa Yi" Shapes of Wrath
Melissa Yi: Shapes of Wrath

Mme Melissa Yi’s latest book, The Shapes of Wrath, was recommended by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and has received several glowing reviews.

“Hope has the misfortune of doing her surgery rotations in Operating Room 3 under the attending physician Vladimir Vrac, a womanizing, arrogant, butt-pinching creep.”—Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.
“I nearly jumped out of my seat. A treat to read.”—Amazing Stories.
“Excellent, engaging … definitely a candidate for ‘Best’ of 2023.” —Kings River Life Magazine.


The shortlists for the CWC Awards of Excellence will be announced on Thursday, April 20th.

The Derringer Awards shortlist has just been released today, April 1st. Congratulations to Melissa Yi for her short-listed short story, “My Two-Legs”!

Melissa Yi
Melissa Yi

Mme Lisa de Nikolitis will be heading to Shetland in June! She is part of the four-day Shetland Noir Festival. She’ll also be part of Toronto’s 2023 Word on the Street. We’ll keep you posted!

Mme Lisa de Nikolitis will be heading to Shetland in June! She is part of the four-day Shetland Noir Festival. She’ll also be part of Toronto’s 2023 Word on the Street. We’ll keep you posted!

Lisa de Nikolits
Lisa de Nikolits

Mme Melodie Campbell will be a featured author at MOTIVE, Crime and Mystery festival, June 2-4, at Harbourfront, part of the Toronto International Festival of Authors.  The launch of her 17th book, The Merry Widow Murders, will take place at the festival, immediately following Opening Ceremonies.  Melodie will teach a Masterclass on Sunday, June 4, 1-2:30 p.m.  Panel assignments are to be announced. We’ll keep you posted.

Melodie’s The Merry Widow Murders is available for pre-order now.

Melodie Campbell


Our featured story for April is  “There be Dragons” by Mme Jane Burfield. This great tale appeared in 13 Claws and was short-listed for the Crime Writers of Canada Award for Best Short Story.

Jane Petersen Burfield
Jane Petersen Burfield
13 Claws Anthology
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MARCH STORY: “Rubies for Romeo” by Jayne Barnard

Our March story is from our newest anthology, In the Spirit of 13, where we took “spirit” to mean the supernatural, the debunking of same or simply alcohol!

Jayne Barnard writes crime and suspense fiction in which women reclaim their power. She is the author of two acclaimed series: the award-winning Falls books featuring ex-Mountie, Lacey McCrae and the YA Steam Punk, Maddie Hatter adventures.

Sue’s husband, Steve, is directing a play set in an old mansion famed for an unsolved death and a jewel theft, Sue faces down strange lights, ghosts and a secretive psychic to unravel the century-old mystery of the missing necklace.


By J.E. Barnard

“Young Julia was found unconscious the next morning.” The tour guide pointed up the narrow back stairs. “Right there on that landing.”

I mouthed “tour group” to my husband, Steve. He backed the other end of our rolled canvas down the rear porch steps so I could step sideways, away from the half-open kitchen windows. The aged planks groaned under my feet. Had they heard? We weren’t supposed to start setting up until they’d all gone.

Someone inside asked, “Did she recover?”

“No. She never regained consciousness.” The guide began explaining early 20th-century cooking arrangements. But the next questioner wasn’t interested in the gleaming copper kitchen boiler, the pinnacle of household tech in prewar Penticton. Pre-Great War, that was.

“Was it murder?” he asked.

“Have you held a séance?” someone else called out. “Maybe she could tell you where the necklace is.” My arms were wobbling like wet linguini under the weight of the roll, but the others kept asking until the guide gave in, or up, and offered further details.

“Although her official cause of death was brain injury from falling down the stairs, gossip at the time was that her heart was broken before her head was, either from the necklace accusation or by a young man. Both theories are explored in the mystery play that starts tonight. See the poster in the gift shop. Now, if you’ll come this way. Carefully. The treads are steep, and there are no handholds on these stairs.”

“I bet she was a star-crossed lover,” a woman at the rear said.

“Imagine carrying cans of hot water up those stairs every morning,” another said. “In a long skirt, too. They should have run a pipe from the boiler up through the ceiling.”

As her voice receded up the narrow back stairs, I eased open the kitchen door. Empty. Whew.

“All clear,” I told Steve.

As another tour began its thudding descent of the main stairs, timed to keep it from colliding with the one going up the back stairs, we scuttled through the restored kitchen, along the butler’s pantry with its glass-fronted cupboards, and into the dark-paneled main hall. I angled my end to line us up with the library’s double doors.

Steve whispered, “Stop.”

“No,” I hissed back. “They’ll catch us in—”

The library doors’ ornate handles dug into my back. Smothering a yelp, I gripped the roll awkwardly with one arm while the other groped behind me for a handle. I barely got it turned before the first tourists’ feet appeared through the mahogany stair railing above Steve’s head. He shoved the roll end, and me, out of the hall. I stumbled backward, caught my heel on the carpet, and staggered sideways to collapse into an upholstered armchair. Steve one-handed his end and softly shut the library door.

“Oh, it’s only you,” a woman’s voice said.

This time, I yelped.

Clapping my hand over my mouth, I lifted my head. The woman who played the medium in my séance scene was peering from the servants’ passage in the back corner.

“Thalia?” Steve lowered the roll to the floor. “You’re here early.”

I sniffed. “And what’s that smell?”

“Incense.” She stepped into the room, trailed by a teen heartthrob in the old movie-idol mold, with full pouting lips, eyelashes fit for a mascara commercial, and dark soft curls brushed off his tanned forehead. “Tib, meet Steve, our director. This is Sue, who plays Mrs. Gander opposite me and Angie. My nephew here is Mercutio in the high school play.”

The boy smirked. “In fair Verona, where we lay our scene.

Steve said, “From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.” As the youth gaped, he went on, “And speaking of unclean—incense? Do I even want to know?”

“My method,” Thalia said loftily. “Don’t worry. We hid in that back passageway while the tour group was in here. They didn’t see us.”

“Sneak out the way you came,” Steve ordered. “Unless you both want to help haul props up from the outside cellar.”

“Tib can,” Thalia said, and pointed. The boy followed Steve into the narrow passage. Their footsteps faded along behind the library wall toward the kitchen.

“Incense, huh?” I asked Thalia as I fanned my overheated face. “Some tourist just suggested a séance. Want to ask the ghosts about the lost necklace?”

“Shh,” she said, and cocked a finger toward the hallway doors.

“This is the Italian countess, who owned the necklace.” It was Maureen, the historic house’s manager, talking. Having taken the tour when our community theater was writing our mystery play, I knew they wouldn’t come in here. They’d done the library before the kitchen.

She went on, “It held five rubies: the main one, a large pendant surrounded by tiny diamonds, bracketed by filigreed golden wings, each anchored by a smaller ruby, and ending in a ruby chip.”

“This what the old lady’s wearing?”

“She had a similar sapphire set.” Maureen’s voice corralled their attention again. “There’s a very old photo of the rubies in the gift shop. The countess and her nephew, this house’s first owner, both died in the Great Flu of 1918. Most of the family’s wealth vanished in the Crash of ’29. Although the descendants searched the place many times before they were forced to sell in 1940, the ruby necklace was never found.”

“Are any of them folks still around?” someone asked.

“Some descendants still live in the valley,” Maureen said. “If you dare visit after dark, there’s a mystery play starting tonight. Great prizes for those who guess the correct solution to the necklace’s disappearance. Tickets are available in the gift shop. So are necklaces like the missing one. Not real rubies, naturally.”

She led them toward the gift shop, in what used to be a visitors’ parlor by the front door. I slipped out of the library behind them and settled onto a bench to rest my feet. That canvas roll and five others had to be hung in the play’s rooms in the next three hours to hide smoke detectors, fire exits and other modern fittings. The special effects equipment had to be set up, plugged in, and tested before showtime. I wanted supper, too.

I wasn’t scheduled to play the part of Mother Gander tonight, so I’d be at my watercolor portrait class, working on my picture of a young girl’s face, with chestnut hair rolled back from her forehead and the collar of her lacy blouse rising almost to her chin. It was my most complicated portrait ever, and I was determined it would turn out well enough to hang here.

Two senior visitors left the gift shop with the pretty pink bags used for jewelry purchases. As they loitered for a last look at the framed photographs, one said, “I bet the girl stole them for some man, and then he ran out on her. She probably threw herself down the stairs. Especially if he’d seduced her. It would be beyond shameful for a girl of that era.”

The other tapped a picture frame. “At that age, they’re so into the dramatics. You know the actress who played Juliet in the Zeffirelli version of Romeo and Juliet was only 13? Perfect casting, but ick.”

“It seemed so romantic when we watched it for high school English,” her companion said. “And not a single teacher pointed out it was a tragedy, not a great love story to be emulated. Can’t you just see this place when they lived here, though?” She sighed.

The tour group trickled in pairs and trios out the front door, letting in wafts of sun-warmed air and the crispy scent of dried leaves from the 100-year-old elms around the property. When the last visitor was gone, Maureen scooped a wayward golden cluster from the floor and plopped onto the bench beside me, twirling the leaves between her hands.

“Sorry we ran long. The ladies always moon over a past that was a lot more romantic and sanitary than the reality. And a young man asked about the necklace dozens of times. I hope he doesn’t sneak back here to hunt for it. We don’t need anybody else getting stuck in the old ductwork.”

“There’s open ductwork?” Mike, our stage manager, entered from the kitchen with a plastic bin in his brawny arms. “Hazards like that should have been closed off before any tourists were allowed.”

He probably pictured a hole in the floor big enough for someone to fall through, but I knew what Maureen meant. The old cold-air return holes in all the rooms were rectangular openings in the corners, a bit larger than a human foot and covered in sturdy brass grillwork.

“They’re all screwed down good now,” Maureen told him. “This was three seasons back, when the house was mostly unrestored. Two young teens decided to hide here after their tour and spend the night hunting for the necklace. I don’t know why their parents didn’t realize they weren’t there at supper time, but 911 got a call near midnight that one of them was stuck. They’d pried up a cold-air grate in a bedroom floor. One of them was feeling around between the floorboards when his shoulder got wedged.” She yawned and shook out her shoulders. “That’s why we count noses after every tour now. I’ll start my shutdown rounds while Karen’s finishing her group. Your volunteers will make sure nobody’s left in here tonight, right?”


We got the backdrops set up in almost record time. Mike mounted his lighting and special effects equipment in the main floor servants’ passages and on timers in the upstairs closets. Costumes and makeup tables were set up in an unrestored back bedroom. I escaped as far as the front porch, wishing “break a leg” to the arriving actors, before Steve caught up with me.

“Wait! I need you for Mother Gander tonight.”

“It’s Elaine’s turn. I’m going painting.”

“She had to take her mom to the hospital in Kelowna.”

Who could argue with the medical needs of elderly mothers?

The way the play was set up, adults from the community theater troupe held down some roles, and the rest were high school students doing it for Drama credits. Most parts were double cast to work around everyone’s schedules. Since each playlet took place in a different room, I hardly saw any of the cast beyond my own trio. Thalia had insisted on being the only mystic, so she was on every night and matinee. Elaine and I alternated in the role of Mrs. Gander, and our daughter was played alternately by students[m1] , Angie and Marnie. We’d both rehearsed with each girl, so my taking Elaine’s place tonight wasn’t a stretch, except that Angie, Daughter One, was in a terminal sulk over not getting to play Juliet in the school’s production. She’d mentioned at every rehearsal that her boyfriend was stuck playing Benvolio, although he’d auditioned for Mercutio. Daughter Two, Marnie, was a volleyball jockette taking Drama 20 for an easy credit. She did her part cheerfully with no unnecessary dramatics. There was an understudy for both girls, but I’d only met her once and wouldn’t know her if I saw her on the street. I’d take her over Angie any day, though. She couldn’t possibly be any more annoying.


Two hours later, I settled my floral straw bonnet atop my curly gray wig and skewered it with a hatpin. At the other makeup table, Angie was painting herself a smoky eye more worthy of an Instagram star than of a sheltered Edwardian girl. After checking that my fan and spectacles were in their proper pockets, I left her to it. When I saw her next, outside the library, she was bidding her bland, sandy-haired boyfriend a Juliet-worthy farewell, as if they faced months of exile rather than two hours on a Tuesday evening. I coughed loudly to announce my presence. The pasty-faced Romeo—er, Benvolio—slouched away toward the kitchen exit. At least, I hoped he was exiting. We didn’t need random boys roaming the halls during the performance.

Peering through the library’s wide-open double doors, Angie shuddered. “Major creep factor in here. Cold and…weird.”

“The draft is from those ill-fitting old windows,” I said. “The painted backdrop cuts off most of it.”

“I don’t like it, “she said, then shrieked as Thalia loomed around the back edge of the backdrop. She was in full mystical face paint and wore a headscarf shimmering with fake coins. Her nephew, Tib, followed her in, sniggering. Angie glared.

“Goodbye, Tib.” I pointed emphatically toward the kitchen exit.

He bit his thumb in my general direction and swaggered off.

Angie muttered, “He only got that part because everybody wants to kill him.” By which I deduced her boyfriend had lost the role to unquestionably handsome Tib.

As Thalia checked her tarot card deck at the black-draped round table, Angie and I moved a long, narrow console table across the doorway to keep the audience back. Then we shuffled to our assigned seats. A faint aroma of incense added to the mystique.

From behind the canvas backdrop, Mike, our props man, said, “Try not to cough. I’m testing the ghostly luminescence. On three.”

Pale vapor filled the space in front of the fireplace. Concealed light from somewhere behind me floated over it, projecting the figure of an adolescent girl in a long, white dress quite like Angie’s costume. Angie shuddered.

“Feel that? That’s not just a leaky window.”

“Save the dramatics for the paying audience,” Thalia snapped.

Oh yes, a fun night ahead.


The metaphorical curtain went up with a rush of cool night air from the front door. We heard the first audience group crowding around the main parlor archway. The actors’ voices rose above the shuffling of feet. The show was on.

Ten minutes later, our little séance held its audience rapt for the allotted seven minutes, and then that group moved on to watch a dining room scene. Three scenes on the main floor, three more upstairs.

Groups would rotate through all evening to watch the six playlets, and then leave their filled-in solution cards in the box on the front porch. To prevent an early winner returning to win over and over, the play had four potential solutions, only one of which was correct on any given night. Even I didn’t know the order Steve had set via dice rolls, only that a few actors would change one or two of their lines slightly to reflect that night’s solution.

Our first few séances went off without a hitch. Angie said her lines clearly. Thalia’s bangles jangled as she commanded the ghost to come forth. The fireplace ghost wavered into view on cue.

Things didn’t go so well upstairs, though. Thumps and bumps echoed down the brass ceiling grate. Between our third and fourth séances, Mike leaned from behind the screen to hand me a small black box.

“Here,” he said. “Take the ghost. I’ve gotta sort them out upstairs.”

On the very next run, while I was concentrating on my trigger finger, Angie went off script. She raised one white-clad arm and pointed a shaking finger, not at the fireplace but at a corner bookshelf the audience couldn’t see from the hallway.

“Aaaaahhh,” she quavered, instead of saying her line.

The viewers, naturally, all leaned in to look where she pointed. The barrier table wobbled.

“What’s that?” Angie shrieked.

The table tipped into the room with a resounding crash.

Thalia declaimed, “Beware. The spirit stirs among us. Don’t move or speak.” She kicked me under the table drapery. I clicked the proper ghost into being.

As soon the group moved on, Angie stood up. “That was not funny.”

“What are you talking about?” Thalia snapped.

“Didn’t you see?” Angie’s voice rose. “That girl’s face! It came right through the bookshelf. I don’t know how Tib did it, but he’s sabotaging me.”

“He wouldn’t,” Thalia snarled. “Now behave, or I won’t sign your class attendance sheet.”

Angie sat down in a surly huff, leaving me and Thalia to reset the table by the door. We got back to our chairs just as our next group arrived. This time, Angie spoke her lines to her clenched hands. I took to repeating them facing the door, since the audiences had to hear everything to have a fair shot at solving the crime. Thalia’s glare ratcheted up so much I half expected wisps of smoke to curl up from Angie’s wig.

Mike sneaked back in time for our final performance. When it ended, I shut the library door and turned on the overhead light. “What was all that noise upstairs?” I demanded.

“Teenage boys,” he growled. “Each accusing each other of sneaking around to hunt for that damned necklace.”

“Not Tib,” Thalia said. “He knows better.”

Mike gave her a look that could sour cream. “He needs a reminder. Your boyfriend, too, Angie. I’ll be having a word with your drama teacher about this.” She flounced into the passage without answering. “What’s worse,” he said, rolling up a cable with unnecessary vigor, “one or both had been into the linen closet. Some plugs were kicked loose from my timing board. They both denied it, of course. When I ran them out the kitchen door, there was another one peering from the bushes by the steps. Likely waiting to sneak in. We’ll have to check every possible hiding place before we lock up tonight.”

“I’ll have a word with Tib,” Thalia promised, and peered out the hallway door before slipping away to change her costume.


On the way home, Steve tallied up all the first-night problems. “Props misplaced, timed effects off,” he grumbled as we turned up the long, dark road leading to our mountainside B and B. “The cord for the dining room lighting effects got looped around the backdrop’s right leg and nearly pulled it down. Upstairs, a sound-effects box blew a fuse, and the ghostly moan sounded like a fart cushion. That audience was laughing uproariously. The nursery maid forgot her lines and started crying, which I guess was fine since she’d already been accused of necklace theft. Doug had to replay the whole scene by himself.”

“Doug saves the day,” I muttered. “He must have been thrilled. And about those rumbling Romeos?”

These hot days is the mad blood stirring,” he muttered, which I took to mean he hadn’t decided yet.


That was Tuesday, opening night. On Wednesday Steve and Mike double-checked every cord placement and taped a bunch more stuff down so it couldn’t move. Except it did. Three rooms lost either sound effects or lighting despite all the extra tape. Mike left me the ghost’s remote control and went around troubleshooting all night.

Marnie played my daughter, and if she slouched in a most unhistorical way, at least she spoke her lines clearly and was untroubled by misplaced ghostly faces.

I, on the other hand, tensely anticipating equipment failures, almost convinced myself a girl’s face shimmered briefly into view in the corner Angie had pointed to. After the house lights came up, I had a good look at those corner bookshelves from my chair, and then from Angie’s. At shoulder height from the floor was a glass-fronted section, now slightly ajar and reflecting the room behind us. Anyone who peered around the backdrop in that opposite corner might appear as a ghostly face, right there. I shoved the little glass door properly shut, wondering exactly who had been back there when Mike wasn’t. Had someone been creeping around to all the rooms, sabotaging stuff?

“We need to make sure before showtime that there’s nobody in this house who shouldn’t be here,” I told Steve that night. “And all the doors, except the front one, ought to be locked.”

“They’re supposed to be.” He frowned. “If it’s high school kids messing around their classmates, we’ll catch them tomorrow.”

His optimism was unwarranted. Our third night was worse, beginning with the news that somebody had strewn props in an upstairs bedroom and unscrewed a duct grating. Maureen waved her phone with its photo evidence and waived all blame for the mess we’d find where she and her docent had shoved everything into the closet between their first and second school tours that morning.

“We had to give our spiel about the great-aunt and her lost necklace in the upstairs hallway. We said construction was going on in there. Please, keep your crap together.”

While Mike and Steve untangled cables and figured out if anything vital was missing, I helped the props assistant check other rooms. A dozen props had been knocked off tables or fallen behind chair cushions, seemingly at random. As we gathered for a quick bite before the actors arrived, we agreed to stow all the props and equipment in the one lockable attic room between shows. Nobody could tamper with it there.

Then Angie was late, hurrying into the library moments before curtain, still tucking her ashen hair under her long chestnut wig. I told her bland boyfriend to scram, but it was too close to curtain to make sure he went. Instead, he hovered in the hall giving Angie a thumbs-up over the audience’s heads and texting her between groups. Eventually, a paying guest told him to quit fooling around. Before the next group got there, I told him to get lost and, if he valued his life, he’d better watch where he put his big feet, since any loose cables would be blamed on him.

Too bad the script didn’t call for a full-blown adolescent sulk. Angie could’ve won an Oscar.

Thalia helped me box up our props for the trip to the attic. “You realize Angie and her boyfriend were poking around in the cellar, right? That’s why she wasn’t ready.”

Steve would have had a pithy quote about flighty girls. I just groaned.


The start of Friday night’s show fell apart when Marnie tripped on the hem of her costume and kissed the linen closet’s oak doorframe. I gave her immediate first aid, but she’d bled down her white muslin front and knocked a molar loose. Her mother hurried her off to the Urgent Care Center. Angie, called in at the last minute, showed up with her sneaky Benvolio in tow. Thalia gave him a glare worthy of a Macbeth witch.

“You! Sit in the hall where I can see you, and keep your mouth shut. One more bit of trouble, and I’ll be talking to your drama teacher, as well as your parents.”

All went smoothly for séance after séance. No bumps and crashes from elsewhere disrupted any performances. The bugs seemed to have finally been shaken out of the production. Or so I thought, until Angie leaped to her feet and screamed, “She’s back!”

She staggered toward the gawking audience. As her mother, I grabbed her around the shoulders and all but wrestled her back to her chair.

“Darling,” I improvised, “you know we’re not supposed to move or speak. Pray hush, so we can hear what the ghost has to tell us!”

While I fumbled in my chair cushions for my dropped remote, Thalia repeated her ghostly exhortations with ever-increasing menace. At last I found the device and thumbed the switch. The smoke swirled up, the ghost wavered into being, and for an instant I saw a second girl superimposed on the projection. Angie gave a strangled gasp and clamped her mouth shut, leaving me and Thalia to improvise to the end.

When the audience had moved on, Angie said flatly, “I’m not doing this anymore.”

She was gone before I could open my mouth.

I looked at Thalia. “Too late to call in the understudy. We’ve got six minutes to split up her lines before the next group arrives.”

A voice behind me said timidly, “I know the lines.”

Peeking around the backdrop was another teenager, already wearing a long muslin dress that looked even more authentic than Angie’s. Her gleaming chestnut hair, or wig, was rolled back from her face and tied with a huge bow. It was a lovely early 1900s style I could use for my portrait, if I ever got back to it.

“I know all the lines,” she repeated. “I’ve been listening every night.”

Had hers been the reflection Angie and I had both seen? Maybe she had been trying to sabotage Angie’s performance for exactly this chance, but there wasn’t time to interrogate her. The next group would be coming along from the parlor any minute now.

Thalia looked at her watch. “Four minutes. Take your seat, kid. If you dry—can’t remember the next line—just raise one hand to that cross you’re wearing, and I’ll cover for you.”

The understudy didn’t dry. She was calmer than Angie, more emotive than Marnie. When the last audience group passed, I closed the hallway doors and turned to ask her why she hadn’t got the principal role. Only the wavering backdrop showed she had been there at all. As we packed up our props, I said to Thalia, “If you won’t sign her drama class paper, I will. She’s a natural.”


Angie didn’t show up for her Saturday night performance, but the understudy was there on time, costumed and line-perfect again. Since it was a weekend, she could have stayed for the debriefing and pizza party, but she vanished the moment the last group left our doorway. I asked the teen playing the nursery maid for her name. She looked at me blankly over her double-pepperoni slice.

“I’m Angie’s understudy.”

“Then who was…?”

She took a bite instead of answering. I asked some other kids, but they didn’t recognize my description, either. For all I knew, the girl’s daytime guise involved purple hair, raccoon eyes, and 27 earrings.


Marnie was back for the Sunday matinee, her swollen lip not too visible under the makeup. She gamely ran her lines, and I made a point of congratulating her at the end of the afternoon.

“By Tuesday night, you should be fighting fit again. Are you taking over Angie’s shows all week, or will the understudy?”

She shrugged. “I’ll find out in drama class tomorrow.”

The students helped pack up the props, but even so it was near dark before Steve and I swept the house for stragglers and locked the kitchen door behind us. He was loading the last boxes into our truck when I realized my phone still sat upstairs on my makeup table. Taking the key from Steve’s jacket, I hurried toward the house.

The lone bulb over the back door suddenly seemed very dim, and every faint scratch of a leaf echoed in the deepening night. It almost seemed as if there were voices inside, too. I told myself firmly to stop imagining things and get in there.

Unlocking the back door, I sped across the kitchen by the Exit sign’s glow and tugged the light string above the steep back stairs. Before the bare bulb stopped swaying, I went up two steps at a time while the house pinged and creaked around me. I’d barely collected my phone when I distinctly heard a voice. It echoed faintly, like it came from a far-off room. I leaned back into the dressing room and listened. Sure enough, it was coming up through the cold air return’s grille.

“I can’t reach,” said a voice I knew well. “Boost me higher.”

Texting Steve to meet me at the back door, I crept down the main stairs. A quick glance into the dining room showed nobody. The gift shop was locked up tight. Parlor? Nobody there, either. I peered into the library, but it, too, was empty. Using my phone flashlight, I checked the servants’ passage and butler’s pantry. Not a soul.

The voices came again…beneath my feet.

Opening the back door, I whispered to Steve, “Somebody’s in the cellar.”

We hurried across the dying grass to the sloping doors that opened to the cellar. Each taking a handle, we threw open the doors and flashed our phone lights down the wide steps.

“Thalia,” I called. “We know you’re down there. Come up right now.”

The silence stretched.

I added, “Is that Tib I heard helping you?”

A diffuse circle of light bobbed across the old cement floor. Thalia and her nephew came into view, his shoulders hunched and hers defiantly back.

She glared up at us. “We have as much right to be here as anybody.”

“Yeah.” Tib’s movie-idol lips curled. “We’re descendants of the guy who built it.”

“His kids sold it 80 years ago,” Steve said. “You’ve no right to be trespassing.”

“You’re searching for the necklace, right?” I asked.

Thalia switched her angry gaze to me. “He paid that countess for it. If anybody deserves it now, it’s us.”

I glared back. “So, in the library that day, the incense was a cover story?”

Tib started to speak, but Thalia elbowed him in the ribs. “And why not? We weren’t disturbing the tour.”

“You were both trespassing.” Steve gave them an over-the-glasses look that had terrorized generations of students. “You especially, Tib. Do you want to end your high school career with a police record? Get up here.”

“There’s no performance for almost 48 hours,” I said as the two of them reached the lawn. “That’s plenty of time for you to think about how the cast will feel about you both using the play as a cover for this quest.”

Thalia’s arrogance deflated slightly. “Do you have to tell them?”

Steve and I exchanged glances. Neither of us really wanted to break in another medium. He turned the steely eyeball onto Thalia again.

“I haven’t decided yet. If there’s any more trouble, you can be sure I will. And before you get the bright idea of coming back after we’re gone, I’ll be telling the cops we ran off an intruder tonight. They’ll drive by several times a night from now on.”

As they slunk off down the alley, Steve muttered, “I want an extra padlock on this door. Can you wait for supper a while longer?”

“Where will you get a padlock and hasp at this time on a Sunday?”

Mike arrived with one in under 15 minutes. He’d also brought a squealer alarm: two little plastic boxes sticking together with magnetic strips. He screwed one box to the underside of each door, at the upper middle corner. When the doors were shut, the magnets held each other, but when either door opened the magnets split, sending out a high-pitched squeal. Someone’s dog barked, and the people across the alley opened their patio doors to investigate.

“Fire department,” Mike called out. “Security check on the mansion.”

By then, it was nearly 8 p.m., and we faced a half-hour drive home. So we turned the other way, and bought pizza to eat in the car. As I was shoving the first bite into my mouth, Steve turned back toward the mansion.

“Just to be sure they didn’t sneak back,” he said.

“Did I remember to tell you Thalia said Angie and her boyfriend were searching in the cellar? I wonder if that’s what gave her the idea.”

Civil blood makes civil hands unclean.” Steve groped toward the pizza box. “If I’d known half the cast would be questing for hidden treasure, I wouldn’t have suggested performing here.”

The old mansion seemed just as we’d left it, shrouded by bare elm branches against a moonless sky. We idled along the alley and across the front without seeing anything move but wind-tossed bushes. As Steve put his foot on the gas, I took a final look over my shoulder and nearly choked on my pizza. Was that a white dress glimmering in an upstairs window?

Only a curtain, catching a streetlight’s glow. Or so I told myself. If anybody had snuck back inside, the neighbor’s dog would’ve been barking.

I decided against mentioning it to Steve, but I called Maureen as soon as we were home.

She groaned.

“Second window from the chimney on the library side?”


“You wouldn’t believe the number of calls I’ve had about this over the years. I used to go check it out, but there was never anyone. It’s gotta be the lights of a car coming down the hill. They hit the upper windows for a few seconds when there’s no leaves left on the trees. That’s all it is—a reflection.”

“If you say so.”

But that night, I lay awake thinking of a lonely orphan, unwanted in her rich relatives’ house. Berated, accused of theft, possibly beaten. Maybe even pushed down those steep back stairs.

If I told Steve this, he’d only say I was taking my role way too seriously. So I didn’t.


No play Monday. The house was closed all day. That night, I went back to my painting class. As I stared at my easel, I realized the orphan I’d imagined last night was the face on my canvas. Interesting that she resembled the talented understudy. Working from memory, I deepened her eyes, darkened her eyebrows, and toned down her lips. The poufs of hair rolled back from her forehead got puffed up more, and I brightened them with golden highlights, as if she was in a gaslit library.

The instructor looked over my shoulder part way through. “That’s got real life now. And that wistful expression. Well done.”

It was raining when I left, a steady autumn drizzle that soaked my coat through at the shoulders. I drove toward the mansion, even though it wasn’t on my direct route home, and pulled up where I could see the upper window again. If car headlights on the hill hit it, my half doubt would be laid to rest.

Nothing showed at the window, or in the yard. If Angie, Thalia, or their respective sidekicks were sneaking around, I’d call the cops on them. Angie was effectively replaced already, and Thalia could be. With sufficient black eyeliner and draperies, Steve could summon the spirits for the final five performances.

The rain gave a few last spits and quit. I started to feel silly. Starting up the car, I turned into the alley for a final sweep along the back before leaving. My headlights struck a young man peering in the kitchen window. I had barely time to register that he wasn’t dressed normally before he leaped down the steps and vanished. I was halfway out of my car before it struck me that chasing an unknown male in the darkness was a bad idea. I ducked back in, locked my doors, and called the cops and Maureen. Then I drove out to the street and parked under a streetlight, where nobody could sneak up on me unseen.

Maureen reached me before the cops did. We sat together in my front seat while the two constables searched around the place. One cop eventually went back to her vehicle; the other came to us.

“No wet footprints on the back porch or steps,” he said. “No doors or windows tampered with. Are you sure you saw somebody?”

“Absolutely. He jumped down the back steps and took off running. I thought he went into those bushes by the coach house. But I guess you looked there?”

The constable nodded. “He’d be halfway down the alley before you got your phone out. Can you tell us what he looked like? What he wore?”

I closed my eyes, recapturing the image. “His head came up to the middle lattice on the window, so he’s a bit taller than me. Baggy pants, maybe brown? Whitish shirt. I almost couldn’t see his shoulders against the house wall.” My eyes popped open. “Suspenders! Nobody wears suspenders these days. Well, except really old men. And this one moved way too fast to be old.”

The cop leaned in my window. I thought he sniffed slightly. Did he suspect I’d been drinking? Smoking dope?

“I did see somebody,” I snapped. “Maureen can confirm we’ve had trouble with teenagers.”

“Well, there’s nobody here now,” he said. “We’ll keep an eye on the place. You go along home.”

And that was that.


Tuesday night’s performance went well enough, given that Thalia didn’t say two words to me outside the script. As a buffer we had Marnie. Afterward, when I was stacking props into the box by myself, I felt a cold draft. The screen wavered in the corner, but nobody came in. I turned back to the box, and clutched at my throat in reflexive astonishment.

“Where did you come from?” I asked the understudy.

“I’ve been around all evening,” she said, standing by the fireplace. “In case I was needed.”

Oh, great. Another teenager snooping around. If she wasn’t the best actor of her class, I’d tell her off. But the overhead light struck golden sparks from her chestnut wig, and I got briefly distracted by wondering if she’d let me take her photo to help with my portrait.

“That’s very nice of you to want to help.” I put the last props into the box. “Do you have anybody waiting for you? I saw a young man hanging around the back porch, peering in the kitchen window.”

Her hand went to her lips. “Was he wearing a brown tweed cap?”

I thought back. “Actually, he was. I was sidetracked by the suspenders. I take it you know him?”

Her face glowed. “I didn’t think he’d come back.”

“He’s been here twice that I know of. Do you need a ride home? We can drop you off on the way.”

“I’ll be fine.” She turned away and checked her hair in the mirror over the fireplace. She even pinched her cheeks in the time-honored way of getting color without blush.

“I would ask you to carry this box up to the attic,” I said, smiling at her sudden glow, “but you might trip in your long skirt on those stairs. You’d better hurry and get changed before we end up locking you in.”

She looked down at her dress. “I always wear this.”

Steve hollered from the downstairs hall. I picked up the box, shivered as another cold draft rattled the backdrop, and realized she was gone again. I made Steve and Mike double-check closets from the attic down to the outside cellar door, but they didn’t find her. She must have hurried out to meet her suspendered admirer. Maybe they role-played Edwardians outside school. That would explain why she seemed comfortable in her long muslin dress.


It was Marnie the next night, and no understudy. No problems, either. We hadn’t sold enough tickets to fill the last two group slots, but Steve assured the cast that wasn’t unexpected for midweek in a small town during the shoulder season. We’d surely have a full house again on the weekend.

It wasn’t much after nine when we let the last teens out the front door and killed the front porch lights. The rest of us separated to pack up the props and change clothes, while Steve and Mike started their closet checks. Then the squealer alarm shrilled through the night. In mixed costume and street clothing, we all raced down to the kitchen to peer outside.

By the dim bulb above the back door, we soon sorted out all the moving shadows and noises. Thalia’s nephew, Tib, tussled with Angie’s boyfriend. Angie darted around them, yelling and flapping her hands. The alarm squealed like a pig in a slaughterhouse. The dog across the alley barked up a storm. Outdoor lights went on, patio doors opened, people rushed out onto back porches.

Mike silenced the alarm.

Steve bellowed, “A plague on both your houses!

The teenagers froze, then slowly separated.

Thalia rushed to Tib. “Are you hurt?”

Angie snapped, “He started it.”

“Quiet,” Steve roared.

I found my voice. “With all this racket, somebody has surely called the cops. You have one chance to get our support before they arrive. Which of you opened that cellar door?” The two boys eyed each other. Angie put on her Oscar-winning pout. I eyed Thalia. “If you care about that kid’s future, make him talk.”

She prodded him in the ribs. He tossed his messy movie-idol curls off his forehead. “Okay, fine. I opened the door. But only because he was gonna do it anyway.”

“Was not!”

“I heard you planning it,” Tib sneered, leaning into Benvolio’s face. “Hiding behind the coach house, waiting until everyone was upstairs getting changed.”

Thalia yanked him backward. “That’s enough.”

“What I’d like to know,” I said, “is why you all think that basement is the place to search. It was thoroughly done over when the new boiler was installed in the 1980s.” Nobody spoke. “Okay, I’m calling Maureen. She can have you charged with trespassing and mischief, and I’m sure the cops will add a few.”

Thalia sniffed. “I told you we had a right to look, and we still think we do. But we don’t want the police involved, so I’ll tell you this much. Tib found a crack under the molding on the servant stairs, right where that girl fell down all those years ago. We couldn’t see anything from there or get our hands in, but I thought if we could find where it came out in the cellar, we could reach up and feel around.”

“Thank you.” I turned to Angie. “And you?”

She cut her eyes at her boyfriend. “He was hiding in the dressing room closet when Thalia and Tib discussed it. We thought they’d get it right away, but you threw them out, and then the cops were always around. Except during the performance.”

The cops pulled up then, and it was after 10 when everybody dispersed. I still wore Mother Gander’s dress, so I trudged back upstairs to change into my clothes, checking the costume’s hem for mud or grass stains. Overhead, Steve or Mike thumped around, checking the attic in case Suspender Boy had taken advantage of the chaos to sneak in. I gathered up all my belongings and headed for the back stairs. In the kitchen, I could put my feet up until the guys finished searching every room again.

I wasn’t thinking about where I was going, wasn’t even looking down, until something white moved in the dark stairwell. I stumbled, slipped, and skidded down the rest of the steps to the landing. My head slammed back against the lowest stair. I saw stars, even with my eyes closed. When I opened them, everything spun.

The stars were the better option.

After a bit, the stars faded. When I opened my eyes, the understudy was on her knees by my side. She was still fully made-up and wearing her pretty muslin costume. Even in my shattered state, I knew she had no business being here after 10 on a school night, but the words wouldn’t form on my tongue.

“Are you all right?” she asked tremulously. “This stair is so treacherous!”

She put her cool hand on my forehead. It eased the throbbing enough that my brain began to function again. My back ached, my ankle swelled. Nothing seemed to be broken. I tested my mouth again.

“I’m okay, “I croaked. “Why are you still here?”

She bit her lip. “I can’t get out of the house by myself.”

My eyes weren’t quite back to normal because she seemed to be wavering a bit.

“The back door unlocks from the side. You can open the bolt and go out anytime.”

A tear rolled down her cheek. I was starting to think she was a hallucination, because I could see through the hand she put up to wipe it away.

“I can’t,” she repeated. “It doesn’t work for me.”

“I don’t understand.” And then, suddenly, I did. “You’re her. You are Julia.”

She nodded.

“And you’ve been here in this house since 1913?”

“I guess. Until you all came and that lady started calling for me, I thought I was dreaming, and I couldn’t wake up.” Her smile bloomed, a trifle thin, but better than tears. “And then you talked to me, and you were dressed sort of like my uncle’s housekeeper. So I thought maybe I had been consumed by fever dreams for a time. But when I looked in the other rooms, I realized that nothing was the same, and I didn’t know what to do.”

I didn’t know what to do, either. I must be hallucinating from a head injury. Steve would find me soon, and she’d vanish as reality was restored.

But on the off chance, I asked, “What do you remember about the night you died?”

Julia sat near my feet and wrapped her arms around her knees. “That old Contessa was always yelling at me, blaming me for things. She accused me of stealing her earring, even though it fell under her dressing table. She kept telling my uncle I would surely steal the silver in the butler’s pantry, and made him lock the cupboard doors at night. When the necklace vanished, he locked me in my room, to stay until I confessed. But she unlocked the door and yelled at me. Then she hit me with her stick.” Her hand touched the hair above her ear.

“This was on the stairs?” I gestured, wincing as my head throbbed with the movement. “Here?”

“No, in my room. I was so dizzy. But she left the door ajar, so I took my chance to escape. You see,” she dropped her eyes to her hands, “her coachman was waiting outside for me. We planned to run away together.”

I sat up, slow and careful, and leaned my head against the wall for added stability. “That guy in the suspenders and hat?”

“Yes. You’re not shocked, are you? He truly loves me and wants—wanted—to rescue me from this awful life. I thought he was gone forever until you told me he was outside, still waiting.”

“Uh, sure.” It was as likely as anything else at the moment. “But that night?”

“I hid in the linen closet until everyone went to bed, and then I started down here.” Her puzzled eyes lifted to the flight behind me. “That was the last thing I remembered until I woke up later on this landing, and couldn’t get anybody to hear me. I tried to leave, but I can’t touch anything except the floor. See?” She laid her palm against the wall, and I watched it sink right through. She pulled it back. “I can’t open the door or walk through the outside walls. I was stuck here forever, unseen and unheard, until your friend told me to come back.”

Thalia was a real medium? Did she know? I vaguely recalled the incense she’d been burning in the library so many days ago. Maybe. She might have accidentally summoned both Julia and her coachman. He couldn’t get in, and Julia couldn’t get out. Real star-crossed lovers.

When I woke up, I was going to have a great story to tell Steve. Maybe he could work it into a new play for next fall.

“But do you know what happened to the necklace? Could it have fallen down a vent?”

“It’s right here.” She waved at the wall by my head. “You’re leaning on the laundry chute. The panel slides up, but the handle broke off long ago. The necklace is caught on a nail in there. I can put my hand in, but I can’t pull it out.” She eyed me speculatively. “Could you? If I show you where to pry up the panel?”

Sure. Why not? Before I woke up on the floor with Mike or Steve bending over me.

I hobbled to the kitchen, picked a butcher knife out of the block, and slid the tip where she showed me. The panel creaked. I pried it again. It crept a little further. Setting aside the blade, I squished my fingers into the gap and lifted in jerks until it gaped opened to my shoulder’s height. Looking into the dark hole, I saw stars again.

Yup. Concussion for sure. With hallucinations.

“Now feel down the inside as far as you can,” Julie instructed. “It’s hanging on a nail right there.”

I groped. There were spiderwebs. Shuddering, I felt among them until something hard moved under my fingers.

“That’s it!” she said.

Carefully, I twined an unseen fine chain around my index finger and gently eased it away from the wall. Something fell into my hand. Slowly, I withdrew my arm. Amid a century’s worth of cobwebs and dust were glints of yellow and red. I rubbed my thumb over the biggest piece. It shone red.

This was unquestionably a ruby in my palm. Surrounded by diamond chips, with filigree wings out to each side, each containing one smaller ruby and tipped with a ruby chip.

I blew the dust away as Julia cheered softly.

“You did it!” She swiped her hand through mine. The necklace shimmered. To my amazement, a ghostly copy lifted away with her fingers. “This is what I’ve been waiting for. Please, will you open the back door and see if I can leave now?”

I limped to the kitchen and opened the back door. She stood looking out, and then put one foot over the sill. It did not disappear. She stepped farther, completely outside the door, a shimmering, silvery girl in the moonlight.

“I’m free,” she said wonderingly.

Out of the darkness by the coach house came her young man, calling her name.

She rushed down the steps. He caught her in his arms and whirled her so that her fine muslin skirt flew out around her ankles. His voice was deep and hushed. “Did you get it?”

She held up the ghostly necklace. He laughed. Then he drew her away.

“Wait!” I hobbled outside as fast as I could. “How did you know where it was? Did you put it there?”

She glanced back at me from the garden path. “Of course. How else were we going to start a new life together?”

Steve found me leaning on the railing of the creaky old back porch, with a lump the size of a Volkswagen on the back of my head and a fortune in cobwebbed rubies, diamond chips, and gold dangling from my fingers.

“What the hell happened to you?” he asked.

I blinked into the darkness, where the last faint trace of white muslin was fading before my eyes.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. But the stars are uncrossed in fair Verona.”

He took me straight to the Urgent Care Center.



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Our return to live events is our biggest news as we march towards spring. But we’re pleased to highlight Jayne Barnard’s post on Sleuthsayers and her short story, “Rubies for Romeo”, for your enjoyment in mid-March.


The Mesdames and Monsieur had their first live event since COVID on Saturday, Feb 25th at the Alderwood Library. Lisa De Nikolits, M. H. Callway, Blair Keetch and Rosemary McCracken had a wonderful time sharing their crime writer journeys with an engaged audience. And we sold books! A huge thank you to the librarian, Ann Keys, for arranging this event for us.

Madeleine Harris Callway
Madeleine Harris-Callway
Lisa de Nikolits
Blair Keetch
Blair Keetch
Rosemary McCracken
Rosemary McCracken

Madeleine Harris-Callway will be attending Left Coast Crime in Tucson, Arizona from March 16 to 19th. She is delighted to be on the panel, Noir: Can It Be Too Dark?, on Sunday, March 19th at 10:15 am.

Madeleine Harris Callway
Madeleine Harris-Callway



Lisa de Nikolits’s latest novel, Everything You Dream is Real, is on the 2023 CravingCanLit list issued by the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Link:

Jayne Barnard

Jayne Barnard was a guest on Sleuthsayers in late January, where she discusses the literary jury process in “We, the Jury…” Read Jayne’s blog post.


The Mesdames’ short story in March is Jayne Barnard‘s, “Rubies for Romeo”, from our In the Spirit of 13 anthology.

Jayne Barnard
Jayne Barnard
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NEWS FLASH! Back in the Real World!



An Afternoon of Thrilling Crime

Love mysteries and crime fiction? Interested in learning about the craft and business of crime writing?

Join us for a discussion with four local mystery and crime writers: M. H. Callway, Lisa de Nikolits, Blair Keetch, and Rosemary McCracken.

This event will include readings by authors and book signings.

Saturday, February 25, 2 to 4 pm

Alderwood Branch

2 Orianna Drive


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FEBRUARY STORY: “The Canadian Caper” by Rosemary Aubert

Thirteen, an anthology of Crime Stories

This month we’re delighted to share Rosemary Aubert’s comedy mystery, “The Canadian Caper” set in Niagara Falls, New York. Her story appeared in our very first anthology, Thirteen.

Why choose Thirteen as the title? It just so happened that there were 13 founding members of the Mesdames in, you guessed it, 2013. And 13 has turned out to be our lucky number!

Rosemary grew up in Niagara Falls, NY and considered Canada her second home. Her parents could buy Red Rose Tea in Canada and she and her siblings could get firecrackers, which were illegal in the USA. She drew on her cross-border experiences to create this very funny story



Rosemary Aubert

At it again!

            Mrs. Di Rosa manoeuvred her walker so that it was flush against the sill of the hallway window on the sixth floor of Global Towers—called Wobble Towers by her smarty-pants grandchildren.  It was the only way she could free both hands in order to adjust her binoculars.          

   Damn cheap things. If they made them here, instead of some foreign country, they’d work better.

            She fiddled with them until she could see the Canadian flag clear as a bell on the other side of the river. That was one of the things her daughter said was so great about Global Towers. That you could get such a good view of the bridge from Niagara Falls, New York to Niagara Falls, Canada.

            “Could be the only place in the world where you can look out a window and see another country,” her helpful son-in-law had suggested when they’d signed her in.

            Big deal!

            She trained the binoculars on a vehicle stopped at the Canadian toll booth and gave the focus knob one more little shove. Good thing I don’t have arthritis! She tracked the long truck full of logs as it slowly made its way through the narrow entrance and onto the bridge.

            “You still looking at them trucks?”

            At the squeaky-voiced question coming from behind, Mrs. DiRosa jumped a mile. She let the binoculars fall back around her neck by their cord and grabbed her walker, turning to face the only person she could stand in Global Towers, her friend Meenie—or Teenie Meenie as Mrs. DiRosa’s grandchildren called their grandmother’s seventy-five-pound friend. Her real name was Minette, and a long time ago she’d left her home in Canada to live with her children before she, too, had been sent to the Towers.  She still spoke with a French Canadian accent.

            “What do you have to sneak up on me like that for?” Mrs. Di Rose said irritably.  “Scared the dickens out of me and messed up my focus, too.”

            “You still watchin’ them truckloads of frogs?

            “Logs, you silly old thing. Not frogs, logs.”

            “So why you watchin’ them now?” Meenie asked.

            “Look,” Mrs. DiRosa said, forgetting her disgruntlement and eager to share her remarkable discovery. “See that truck coming through now?”

            She handed the binoculars to Meenie who, being ten years younger, was more agile in every way and had no need of a walker to help her get close to the window. She held the binoculars to her eyes.

            “Yeah, I see it,” she said, “It just got to the American side. One of them nice-looking young men in the uniform is talking to the driver. So what?”

            “Get a load of the very top log. See anything funny about it?”

            Meenie was quiet for a few seconds. Studying. “I see a mark on the top log,” she finally said. “A funny mark. Maybe like a hax hit it wrong.”

            “Axe,” Mrs. DiRosa said. She had been correcting Meenie’s English now for eighteen and a half years without any noticeable effect. “Yes, that’s it.”

            “What’s funny about a hax mark on a big log?”

            “Nothing,” Mrs. DiRosa said. “Except that I’ve seen that mark on that log six times since I started counting.”


            “Meenie, that truck comes through here once every two weeks. And every single time, the same log is on top.”

            Meenie leaned closer to the window. “Comes down from Canada with the same log on top? I don’t get it.”

            Mrs. DiRosa took the binoculars from her friend’s hand. She trained them on the handsome young American customs official. She watched as he took a bunch of papers from the driver of the truck, glanced at them, nodded and waved the man on.

            “They don’t keep them long enough with nine-eleven and all,” Mrs. DiRosa said. “No wonder there’s so many smugglers.”

            Meenie laughed. “You read too many of them books. You got too much of imagination. There aren’t smugglers now. That’s stuff out of stories.”

            “No, it isn’t,” Mrs. DiRosa said, suddenly remembering bits and pieces of a conversation. “Somebody was talking about smuggling just last week.”

            Damn memory. Isn’t worth a thing. Should have eaten more carrots or something.

            Meenie thought about it for just a minute. “I know,” she said. “It was at the Trans-border social last Tuesday. You know, when those old ladies come over from Canada for lunch at the Towers.”

            “Yes, Meenie. You’re right. That’s it! They were talking about smuggling people out of foreign countries through Canada into the United States!”

            “You don’t think that truck of logs has people hid in it?”

            Mrs. DiRosa took another look out the window. The log truck was just pulling onto the Parkway, headed for points south. “The logs could be hollow or something like that. I wouldn’t be surprised. Foreigners are tricky. And getting into America is the thing they want most.”

            “But it’s a big crime!” Meenie protested.

            “Sure is,” Mrs. DiRosa said. She caught one last glimpse of the truck as it disappeared down the highway. “A whole load of criminals headed right into the heart of America.”


            It wasn’t until the next day that Mrs. DiRosa finally figured out what they had to do. “Meenie, you’ve got to talk to that nice young customs man.”

            Meenie laughed. “What I going to tell him—that my friend think people are coming in empty logs to America?”

            “Don’t be a smarty-pants. I’d do it myself only I can’t walk. You can.”

            “But I can’t talk that good. He won’t listen. He’ll just think I’m some old crazy person like Mr. Winters.”

            Mr. Winters no longer lived at Global Towers because he’d wandered onto the bridge in his underwear on a February morning, swearing he was Canadian and wanted to die at home.

            Meenie’s got a point.

            “Okay,” Mrs. DiRosa said, “I’ve got it. I’ll write everything in a letter. How I’ve been watching the bridge for weeks now and have seen the same truck with the same logs go over time after time. I’ll put in the letter about how I can see that top log from above, which is how I can tell it’s the same log, when the customs men can’t. Then they won’t feel insulted or anything.”

            “Don’t want to insult them, no,” Meenie agreed.

            “Then you’ll do it?”

            “To keep criminals out of America? Okay.”

            It didn’t take long to write the letter. Meenie was right about Mrs. DiRosa reading a lot of books. One thing it did for you was make it easy to write. She signed the letter, “An American Citizen.” That sounded good.

            Even though it would take Meenie a while to go all the way downstairs, then to the back door, then across the parking lot, then across the street, then onto the bridge and into the customs booth, Mrs. DiRosa got right up against the window the minute Meenie left her apartment.

            It seemed to take forever before she finally caught sight of her. Luckily it wasn’t a busy day on the bridge. Even without the binoculars, Mrs. DiRosa could see the customs man take the envelope from Meenie. She watched him tear it open and read the letter. Then she saw him step into the booth and pick up the telephone. She lifted the binoculars. Now she could see that the man was smiling and nodding. Was he talking to his boss? Were they going to check things out?

            She waited for what seemed like a long time. Finally the man put down the phone. He stepped out of the booth. He had something in his hand, which he gave to Meenie. He was talking to her. Mrs. DiRosa couldn’t see Meenie’s face too clearly. But she did see that Meenie’s shoulders were more slumped than usual. It didn’t seem like a good sign. It wasn’t a good sign either when the handsome young customs man patted Meenie on the head just like she was a dog.


            “All he did was give me this,” Meenie said, holding up a small, bright American flag.

            “What did he say?” Mrs. DiRosa demanded. They’d already been through this several times, but she wanted to make sure.

            “I told you,” Meenie said, twirling the flag in her fingers until Mrs. DiRosa reached out and made her stop. “He say old ladies don’t always see too good and not to worry because he’s protecting America for us.”

            Mrs. DiRosa thought about it for one minute longer. Then she made up her mind. “That log truck has something wrong about it and I’m not going to give up until we find out what it is.”

            “How come you always say ‘we’?” Meenie asked, beginning to twirl the flag again.

            “There’s only one thing we can do now,” Mrs. DiRosa announced.

            “Oh, no. What?”

            “We have to go to Canada.”

            “But you can’t even walk!”

            “We will find a way.”

            “Stop saying we,” Meenie said again, but of course, Mrs. DiRosa wasn’t listening. She was thinking again.


            The first thing they had to do was borrow a wheelchair from the office. It wasn’t easy because for several years now, Mrs. DiRosa had told the Global Towers’ social worker that the only place she was going to be wheeled was to her grave.

             “Where you be goin’ then, sweetie?” the social worker asked. She was a nice young girl with a master’s degree in social work from some university in Georgia.

            Too bad they don’t teach English in college any more. “To the library,” Mrs. DiRosa lied, and Meenie, who was standing behind her, nodded.

            “Well, you all be careful now, you hear?”

            “Of course,” both the old women said sweetly and simultaneously.

            “Good, we fooled her,” Mrs. DiRosa told Meenie as she got herself down into the chair and arranged a blanket around her legs. “Now we’ve got to get going. The plan’s simple. We just wheel right on out the back door, over the parking lot, across the street—be sure to watch both ways—and onto the bridge. On the American side we’ve just got to pay the toll—no questions asked. Once we get over to Canada, I’ll tell them you don’t speak any English. That way I can do all the talking.”

            “What if they find out we’re missing from the Towers?” Meenie wasn’t nearly as sure of the plan as Mrs. DiRosa.

            “No problem. Today’s Tuesday—Trans-border social day. It’s Canada’s turn. I signed us both up. That bus driver’s so lazy, he never checks how many there are. And if the Canadians have any questions, we just say we missed the Trans-border Social Club bus.”

            Meenie shook her head. “I don’t think…”

            “You don’t have to think,” Mrs. DiRosa said. “You just have to push.”


            It was cold going across the bridge even though it was the middle of June. The wind off the river smelled a certain way that Mrs. DiRosa remembered from long ago. It had been almost twenty years since she’d gone across the bridge in any way except by her daughter and son-in-law’s car. She remembered Mr. DiRosa and all the times they went to Canada together in the old days, bringing back good Canadian tea and jam and cheese and toffee that killed your teeth and—for the Fourth of July—nice Canadian firecrackers that you had to hide under your blouse to get across. The memory of it made tears come to her eyes and the tears gave her a good idea.

            “Don’t say a thing, Meenie,” Mrs. DiRosa reminded her friend as they came within a few yards of the Canadian customs booth. They could see the outline of a person behind the glass of the booth, but when the person stepped out with a little smile on her face, Mrs. DiRosa was surprised.  She’d expected the Canadian customs officer to be a handsome young man just like the American one. Only it was a young woman instead. A smart-looking young woman.

            “Well now, ladies, what can I do for you?” the girl said. She looked friendly, but suspicious, too. Mrs. DiRosa was glad about the new angle to her plan.

            She sniffled and squeezed her eyes shut, and made a few of the tears that were still in her eyes run down her cheeks. “I have come home to die,” she said.

            She could feel the back of the wheelchair wiggle a little bit, but Meenie kept her mouth shut.

            The young woman looked shocked.   “Come in here, ladies,” she said, her voice a little shaky, “just wait for a moment, please.”

            She opened the door to the customs office. Meenie wheeled Mrs. DiRosa in. The customs officer disappeared down a narrow hall.

            The minute she was out of sight, Meenie came around the front of the wheelchair. She was good and mad. “What’s the matter with you?” she demanded of Mrs. DiRosa. “Why you tell them such a crazy thing? You want to be like Mr. Winters? How that fix the smugglers?”

            “Calm down,” Mrs. DiRosa said. “Remember how they got all those officials to come to the bridge when old Winters went crazy? They’ll call the same ones now. The minute the bigwigs get here, we’ll spill the beans.”

            They heard footsteps coming down the hall, the light steps of the female officer and then heavier steps.

            “Here they come.”


            It was in all the papers: the Niagara Gazette, the Buffalo Evening News, even the papers up in Toronto and the Pennysaver. Mrs. DiRosa cut out the articles and taped them up on her wall. They showed her and Meenie talking to a reporter, and they said how they’d tipped off the bridge people and broken up a ring of people smugglers.

            Mrs. DiRosa’s daughter was hopping mad at first. “I signed you up at the Towers so you would be safe, and look what you do—running off after smugglers.”

            “I didn’t run after them, I just turned them in,” Mrs. DiRosa said.

            “Well, I’m taking those binoculars away right now. I don’t want you to put yourself at risk like this ever again”

            Mrs. DiRosa thought fast. “I’ll give them in to the penny sale,” she said. “Then somebody else can benefit by them.”

            Her daughter was about to answer that when the phone rang. It was a TV reporter from New York. She forgot about the binoculars when she found out Mrs. DiRosa was going to be on the news right across the country.

            “You’re hot now, Grandma,” her grandchildren said when they heard that.


            Mrs. DiRosa manoeuvred her walker so that it was flush against the windowsill. She lifted the binoculars to her eyes.

            “What you lookin’ at now? More trucks?”

            “Course not,” she said to Meenie. “I’m just checking to make sure these are all right before I give them in for the penny sale. You know how mad that social worker gets when people donate things that don’t work.”

            Mrs. DiRosa leaned against the walker and freed her other hand to fiddle with the focus. She could see the Canadian flag clear as a bell across the river.

            Good thing they teach people to respect their elders in Canada.

            That’s what she was thinking when she saw it again. Just as she had seen it twice before: a van driven by a man pulled into one of the parking lots a little ways down the river from the entrance to the bridge. The man seemed to disappear into the back of the van. Then after a little while, the front door of the van opened and a woman walked out. No sign of the man anymore. Like he had up and disappeared altogether. The woman walked toward the bridge, paid the toll and began to walk over the bridge right toward America.

            “Lots of crooks in this world, Meenie,” Mrs. DiRosa said.

            “We gonna need that wheelchair again?” Meenie asked.

            Could be, Meenie, could be….


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WOW WHAT A YEAR – PART TWO- Author Celebration!


The Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem had one of their busiest years ever in 2022! Part 1 told about our recognitions and our many happenings: conferences, book launches, podcasts, readings, interviews and more.

Part 2 tells you about our authors, their books, stories and recognitions. We had a fabulously active year in 2022, We released 8 new books, reissued more than half a dozen reader favorites and published nearly 50 short stories and novellas! For a full listing, check out our Year End Book Review here: THE MESDAMES 2022 YEAR END BOOK REVIEW.


More and more crime fiction anthologies are being published. In 2022, we edited and/or published stories in FOURTEEN anthologies. Time for a Best Anthology Award!

In the Spirit of 13, our fifth anthology in celebration of our 10th anniversary, included 23 stories by 22 Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem. For this outing, we let our imaginations run wild, interpreting spirit to mean ghost, demon, the evil in human hearts – or plain old alcohol.

Cold Canadian Crime celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Crime Writers of Canada and included stories by Melodie Campbell, Lisa De Nikolits, Blair Keetch, Rosemary McCracken, Lynne Murphy and Sylvia Warsh.

And there were a DOZEN more. (The names of Mmes authors are in the captions.)

Jayne Barnard
M. H. Callway
Jayne Barnard
Jayne Barnard
Melissa Yi
Kevin Thornton, “The Odd Event”
Kevin Thornton
Kevin Thornton
Kevin Thornton
The Adventure of the Lusterless Client by Kevin Thornton
The Victoria Hall Tragedy by Kevin Thornton
The Problem of the Pilfered Promptuary by Kevin Thornton


Catherine Astolfo

Catherine Astolfo wrote “The Spirit of St. Louis” for In the Spirit of 13. She also published two comedy mystery novellas in Twice the Chit, featuring the retired mystery-solving hippies of Chittendom Creek. And she reissued her crime novel, Legacy, in the Emily Taylor series.

Rosemary Aubert
Rosemary Aubert

Rosemary’s supernatural chiller, “The Phone” appears In the Spirit of 13.

She is working on several projects, including a compilation of her teachings on creative writing.

Jane Petersen Burfield
Jane Burfield

Jane published her spooky tale, “Whispers” in In the Spirit of 13.

She continues to work on several literary projects.

Jayne Barnard
Jayne Barnard

Jayne edited and wrote the story, “Midsummer’s Day Dream” for SinC West’s second anthology, Crime Wave 2, Women of a Certain Age. She published stories in the anthologies, Prairie Witch and Nothing Without Us Too and she penned “Rubies for Romeo” in In the Spirit of 13. Plus she reissued 3 books in her steampunk Maddie Hattie series.

M. H. Callway

Mad had two firsts in 2022: a UK publication in the anthology, Gone, by Red Dog Press and her thriller, “Last Island” was the cover story for the November issue of Mystery Magazine. She also wrote the novella, “Amdur’s Ghost”, for In the Spirit of 13, a second story featuring beleaguered civil servant, Dr. Amdur.

Melodie Campbell

The publication date of Melodie’s new mystery series The Merry Widow Murders is set for May 2023. She published “The Kindred Spirits Detective Agency” in In the Spirit of 13 and took a serious turn with “Death of a Ghost” in Cold Canadian Crime. She co-wrote “Tough Nuts” with Des Ryan for the July issue of Mystery Magazine. She also reissued her time-travel Ramona series (now in audiobook) as well as being a regular contributor on Sleuthsayers blog. Her cross-genre story, “A Ship Called Pandora”, was reprinted in Issue 14 of Black Cat Weekly magazine.

Donna Carrick

Donna is chief editor and the publisher of In the Spirit of 13 for which she wrote her chilling noir story, “Beloved Ink”. Her podcast, Dead to Writes is now in its 5th season! In 2022, she interviewed all 22 authors in In the Spirit of 13. She was also a guest author on the CWC’s webinar program teaching short story writing.

Lisa published her 11th novel, Everything You Dream is Real (Inanna Press), the sequel to her critically acclaimed novel, The Rage Room. She also published her novella, “In a Land of Fear and Denial”, in In the Spirit of 13 and her story, “Somewhere Near Sudbury”, in Cold Canadian Crime. She continued her podcast, I Read Somewhere That and participated in many interviews and blog tours.

Cheryl Freedman wrote the intriguing tale, “Possessed” about a dybbuk (a Jewish demon) for In the Spirit of 13.

She continues her work as a full-time editor.

Therese Greenwood
Therese Greenwood

Therese loves to write historical crime fiction and her Prohibition tale, “The Iron Princess” appears in In the Spirit of 13.

She works full-time to keep the people of Fort McMurray safe.

Blair Keetch

Blair Keetch had a busy year in 2022. In addition to his supernatural thriller, “To Catch a Kumiho”, In the Spirit of 13, he published “Sex, Lies and Snowmobiles” in Cold Canadian Crime. And his flash fiction, “Glimmers” appeared in the leading crime fiction publication, Shot Gun Honey.

Marilyn Kay
Marilyn Kay

Marilyn, wrote her thriller,”Rise Up”, for In the Spirit of 13. She’s continuing to keep our readers up to date as editor of our monthly newsletter, Mesdames on the Move.

She’s currently completing her first novel, a police procedural.

Rosemary McCracken

Rosemary McCracken published her chilling story, “In From the Cold” in Cold Canadian Crime and followed that up with her tongue-in-cheek tale, “The Fur Coat Conundrum”, for In the Spirit of 13.

She’s working on the fifth book in her popular Pat Tierney series, the financial planner turned amateur sleuth.

Cat Mills
Cat Mills

Cat released two documentaries in 2022, Me, Mahmoud and The Mint Plant and The Billboard Squad. Both have been featured at several Canadian and international film festivals.

And her debut mystery story, “The Dollhouse” appears in In the Spirit of 13!

Lynne had an amazing year. Her new book, Potluck (Carrick Publishing), brings together her mystery stories about the eccentrics residing at the Golden Elders condo tower. It also includes her new novella, A Damaged Heart.

Plus she published her story, “The Lady-Killer”, in Cold Canadian Crime and two stories in In the Spirit of 13: “The Trespassers” and “Gracie, The Invisible Dog”.

Ed Piwowarczyk
Ed Piwowarczyk

Ed’s supernatural thriller, “The Haunting of Mississippi Belle” appears in In the Spirit of 13. The historical Hollywood setting was a natural for a film buff like Ed.

He was also Chief Copy Editor for In the Spirit of 13.

Rosalind Place

As editor of Mesdames on the Move, Roz keeps readers up to date year-round on all the Mesdames and Messieurs’ doings.

She wrote her haunting historical thriller, “A Faint Disturbance of Hope”, for In the Spirit of 13.

Madona’s lovable crook turned reluctant psychic, Lenny, appears in a new story, “Moving On”, for In the Spirit of 13.

Madona also participated on several conference and workshop panels in 2022, most recently the Ottawa Maple Leaf Mini-Conference.

Caro published The River District and The Visitors, Books 6 and 7 of her Merculian Mystery series, featuring her detective, Marlo, of the dual-gendered planet. Her twisted tale, “The Yellow Bird”, appeared in In the Spirit of 13.

She also headed up the Mesdames of Mayhem’s table at Word on the Street, now back in the real world as of 2022.

Kevin Thornton
Kevin Thornton

Kevin, our intrepid Sherlockian, penned SEVEN tales of the Great Detective in 2022. (See the anthologies at the top of this blog for the links). And he wrote his caper story, “The Fixer”, set in Sicily’s wine-growing district for In the Spirit of 13.

Sylvia Warsh

Sylvia’s chilling tale, “The Natural Order of Things”, appeared in the May/June issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. She published the domestic thriller, “There are Always Secrets”, in Cold Canadian Crime and the darkly satirical, “Aunt Bertie Tries to Save the World,” in In the Spirit of 13

Melissa Yi

Melissa had another stellar year. Her story, “Dead Man’s Hand”, published in EQMM, was a finalist for the CWC Award of Excellence for Best Short Story. She published four short stories in 2022: “My Two Legs” in the September/October issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine; “Blue Christmas” in Crime Never Takes a Holiday; “Candy Cane Kisses” in WMG Holiday Spectacular 2022 and “The Mob Bar Mob” in In the Spirit of 13.

She published THREE books: the YA novella, Dogs vs Aliens, Grandma Othello and Shaolin Monks in Space; the story collection, Chinese Cinderella, Fairy Godfathers and Beastly Beauty; and The Shapes of Wrath, the first book in her new Dr. Hope Sze series, based on the seven deadly sins, which she successfully crowdfunded!

Her story, “White Snow and Seven Dreams” was a finalist for the Surrey Muse Arts Society’s 2022 Joy Kogawa Award for Fiction, beating out more than 300 entrants!

And her play, The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World, was chosen by Calgary’s Stage One Festival. She performed the play to rave reviews in July at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival.


Marilyn Kay
Marilyn Kay
Rosalind Place
Roz Place
Posted in Anthologies, Awards/Achievements, books, Dead to Writes, News | Leave a comment


There’s more than candy in the boxes, dear readers.

We’ve got new publications, super events, a caper short story by Rosemary Aubert and more to offer you this February.


Melissa Yi" Shapes of Wrath

Buy your copy at or support your local bookstore.

Virtual Book Launch

Join the celebration at the virtual book launch/book lunch party on February 6th!!

Mme Melissa Yi’s new book The Shapes of Wrath is now available. Read the fantastic reviews here.

The hand that wields the scalpel

Dr. Hope Sze launches into her general surgery rotation with Dr. Vrac, the scourge of operating room #3, also known as the death OR.

Dr. Vrac screams at the resident doctors suffering under him, the nurses who don’t move fast enough, the anesthesiologist, his auto mechanic, and even a garbage can.

Patients begin to die under Dr. Vrac’s scalpel.

This morning, Hope discovers a dead man in the back of the OR.

Next, a ghost lingers outside of Montreal’s St. Joseph’s Hospital.

a) WTF and b) can Hope outwit the enraged killer before someone slices her throat?

Now Available from the Toronto Public Library

Mme Lynne Murphy’s book, Pot Luck, has been accepted into the Toronto District Library as has our latest anthology, In The Spirit of 13.


Meet and learn with the Mesdames at this Toronto Public Library event:

· Come and meet M. H. Callway, Lisa De Nikolits, Blair Keetch, Rosemary McCracken

Location: Alderwood Branch, 2 Orianna Drive, Toronto, Saturday, February 25th, 2:00 to 4 pm.

·An Afternoon of Thrilling Crime: The Mesdames of Mayhem share their knowledge and experiences with emerging writers. Admittance is free.

Ontario Library Association’s Super Conference

The Ontario Library Association’s Super Conference is at the Metro Toronto Convention Center from February 1-4, 2023. This year’s theme is Walking in Two Worlds. Mme Lisa de Nikolitis will be there with her newest book Everything You Dream is Real, on February 3rd at 2 p.m. Note: This is a paid event.

Mme Madeleine Harris-Callway will attend Left Coast Crime in Tucson, Arizona, from March 16 to 19th. Panel announcements are to be made in mid-February.

M.H. Calllway


Check out Mme Melodie Campbell’s very interesting blog post in SleuthSayers about serving on a book jury. Here’s the link: “SleuthSayers: We, The Jury.”

Melodie Campbell


The Mesdames’ short story in February is Mme Rosemary Aubert‘s, “The Canadian Caper”, from our very first anthology, Thirteen.


Posted in Anthologies, books, events, Writing | Leave a comment


13 Claws Anthology

The Outlier is one of the scariest stories I’ve ever read. It was first published in the Mesdames of Mayhem’s third anthology, 13 Claws, where our theme was animals…and crime. (Carrick Publishing, 2017) And it won the Crime Writers of Canada Award of Excellence for Best Short Story in 2018.

All I can say is never trust a man who keeps pigs…

M. H. Callway

The Outlier


Catherine Astolfo

If I’d paid attention to Marvin, none o’ this would’ve happened.  For that matter, I should’ve seen the signs left by the burglar when he cased the joint. 

Whenever I take my semi-annual trips to St. John’s, stocking up for the seasons, the hours of hard driving there and back again take their toll on the old man I have become. Especially the early winter one.

 This little spot isn’t called Back Side Harbor for nothing. We’re the ass end of a narrow strip of land—technically an isthmus—that juts out into the Atlantic.

Back Side is an outport. Pay attention to that word ‘out’. It has a lot of uses here in Newfoundland. Outport family names go back many decades even though most o’ those families moved out of here during resettlement. There are a dozen villagers left, give or take. They think their shit smells good because they have those historical names. However, since none of us goes out, it’s hard to tell who’s still here and whether or not they really are a Gill or a Butt.

I’m an outlier, a person who’s come from away, so I get even less attention from any of the harbor dwellers. Which suits me just fine, since being out of contact is my goal.

I live on the hill above the harbor in a little cottage. Been here ten years now. One big room runs along the front part with a living area and a kitchen. The back part has a bedroom and a bathroom.

I have a corn-fed stove that keeps the whole place warm in winter and the windows send cool ocean breezes in the summer. No electricity, but a big old generator gives me all I need.

With such a small space to look after, you’d think Id’ve taken note that first day when I found my mattress shifted slightly on the bed. Next, the shutter in the kitchen left open. The third day, a lack of snow on the doorstep, as though it had been blown away by someone’s boot.

My excuse—I was just so damn tired. That trip to the city is brutal. I’m creeping onto ninety years old next year, if I’m still here. I can’t do three whole days away from home any more. I don’t sleep well in those cheap hotels. Everything is just so…noisy. Like a big loud cell block in a federal prison.

The day the kid arrived I was still tired from the trip. Not to mention the tasks I’d had to face when I got home.

I drowsed all afternoon with Miss Kitty. She’s a big old tabby cat who wandered by one day and stayed.  She likes to curl up on my stomach, makin’ biscuits in the blanket with her paws.

I sat and listened to the CBC on the radio. Played some solitaire. Did nothing and paid no attention, just like Miss Kitty.

Marvin, on the other hand, sniffed and snorted everywhere during those four days. He knew there was something off. He can always tell when a stranger invades our privacy.

Here’s the quick version of Marvin’s story. I was comin’ back from one of those voyages to the city when we were stopped on the highway by a rollover.

From out of the damaged back end of the truck, down the road trotted a whole bunch of pigs. They’d been hauling them off to the bacon factory.

Only Marvin made it as far as my car. The rest of the porcine escapees got recaptured, run over by traffic on the other side, or disappeared into the brush. I watched this big guy waddle along the side of the highway, head up, going who knew where. He was simply scramblin’ fast as he could in the opposite direction of that truck.

Thing is, I didn’t think about what I did. I certainly didn’t expect the result I got either. I admired that pig’s determination to get away so I leaned over and opened my passenger door. And into the old car hopped Marvin.

As it turns out, pigs make great pets. They’re clean, smart, they’ll eat whatever’s on offer and they like people. Marvin’s a bit stubborn, likes his own way in things, but so do I and so does Miss Kitty. We make a great trio.

The kid came at night, when I was fast asleep. There were three signs of his invasion that I could not miss.

First, the sound of a chair falling over (though I didn’t know that was what caused the bang until later).

Second, Miss Kitty used her claws in fright to lift herself off me, even digging below the blanket and through my long johns.

Third, Marvin made his squealing noise, a throaty, screechy kind of sound that feels like pins in your ears.

I sat straight up in my bed and, what with the noise and the cat’s nails, soon had my feet on the ground.

I didn’t need to tiptoe into the front of the house. Marvin was raising such a racket that a truck could’ve driven through the living room and no one would have heard it.  

The young guy was sprawled out on the floor. He’d obviously come in through the kitchen window, stepped on that rickety chair and sent it and himself tumbling to the floor. Unfortunately for him and Marvin, he landed on the pig.

I went for the guy without a second thought. Lifted him off my pet. Flipped him over onto his stomach. Pulled his left arm behind and upwards ‘til he made squeals of his own.

In the meantime, Marvin scrambled to his feet, still carrying on, but now he was snorting with indignation.

I reached over to the drawer nearby and got my fingers on a couple of cable ties. I soon had the asshole’s hands tied behind his back.

I rolled him over and clipped his ankles together for good measure. Then I lit the kerosene lamp.

I checked on poor Marvin, who was still mad, but he looked and felt okay.

Then I had a long gander at my intruder.

He was a young ‘un. Early twenties, maybe even late teens. Fair hair and freckles. At the moment his baby blues were liquid with fear and shock.

I figured he didn’t expect me to be home. Even if he thought I might be here, he didn’t think an old guy like me could take him down.

I put the chair back on its feet and sat.

“So, by, what the feck’re ya doin’ in my house?” I asked, using as good a Newfoundland accent as I could manage.

He didn’t struggle. Just lay there panting for a moment.

“Are you gonna call the cops?” he finally gasped.

“Not much point to that. They’re all the way over to Fishy Cove and they’re closed at night.”

I waited a moment.

“That’s all you got to say?”

The boy’s eyes were clearing. He almost looked defiant.

“I knew you’d say that.”

“Say what?”

“About not callin’ the cops.”

“Did ya now?”

I got up and stretched, feeling the takedown in my lower back and shoulders.

“Since we’re all up, we might as well have a cuppa tea and a yarn. What do you t’ink?”

My visitor had the grace not to answer.

We needed something to cheer us up. After all, we’d suffered a big shock.

I gave Marvin one of his favorite treats, a mishmash of broccoli, carrots and squash. He snorted a few times, but soon got distracted by the food.

Miss Kitty still hadn’t surfaced, but I put some tuna down in a bowl just in case.

I lit the gas stove and put the kettle on the burner. I got the Bailey’s from the icebox and poured a good measure into my teacup.

While the water boiled I took my handcuffs down and swiftly replaced the cable ties. I let him keep one hand free while the other dangled from the chain and eyehook on the wall.

He yanked on the chain once but seemed satisfied that he was stuck. He settled in.

 I pulled my old armchair closer to the wall and propped the kid against it so he could sit up.

Once the tea was ready, I sat on a chair, angled so I could see the young man’s face. We sipped in silence for a few minutes. Like he’d just dropped in for a nice winter’s chat.

He should’ve thought to dress like a mummer, hide his face under a mask. Either the guy was dumb or he was new to breaking and entering.

“You thought I wouldn’t be home, wha?”

“No, I thought I could sneak in.”

That made me laugh.

“Well, I’d say the arse fell out of ‘er on that one. You from around here?”

He shook his head. “I’m from Vancouver.”

“Whoa. You’re way off your patch, aren’t ya?”

“So are you.”

I chuckled and shook my head.

“Mind now, you’re the one come into my house. I gets to ask the questions.”

“I know who you are.”

“It’s my turn then. Who owns ya? Related to an outport family?”

“You’re not a Newfie. Stop talking like one.”

I laughed heartily.

“Reminds me of that old joke. The mother says to her wayward boy, ‘Son, why-a you do deese t’ings to-a me?’ and the son says, ‘Ma, why are talking like that? We’re not Italian.’”

I guffawed some more. I was beginning to have fun. That’s what comes from living without other humans. You are easily amused when they do show up.

I leaned over, still laughing. When I slapped him across the face, he looked as though I’d betrayed him.

“What. Are. You. Doing. In. My. Home.” I punctuated each word so he could understand me above the likely ringing in his ears.

Tears slid down his cheeks, but he was still determined to be rude and a liar.

“I needed money.”

I waved my hands around the cottage.

“And you thought I’d have lots of it hidden here on the hill above Back Side Harbor. You are dumber than I thought and that’s pretty dumb.”

“I meant…I thought I could take something and sell it.”

I smiled at him. He really was stupid.

“Like my teacup?” I held it aloft, displaying the side with a prominent chip. “How much will this beauty fetch? Was ya born on a raff?”

When I stopped laughing, I scowled and leaned over him, snatched his empty cup.

“Maybe you can tell the truth about the who. Who are you? No ballyraggin’ this time.”

I used the quiet, menacing voice that tends to encourage reluctant truth telling.

He pulled the lids over his big eyes, fear crowding out the defiance. He thought he could hide the sudden vulnerability he was feeling.


Why are there so many stupid criminals these days? In my day it took cunning and careful study of the minutiae. The ‘what ifs’, the contingencies, the back stories.

“Don’t feckin’ lie to me, b’y.” This time I must admit my voice rose a little.

 “I…my name is Brent Hillyard. I do come from Vancouver. That was the truth.”

“Well, Brent, nice to meet ya. I’m Jason.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Jaysus, idd’n you a stunned one?”

He cried out when the cup landed on his forehead. Bled like a sucker too.

I got another cup out of the cupboard and fixed us more tea. Mine got an even larger dollop of Bailey’s than last time.

I pulled out the lassy buns I’d bought in St. John’s. A rare luxury that the stupid kid in front of me, had he any manners, ought to appreciate. I was a regular Martha Stewart.

I handed him a clean handkerchief too so he wouldn’t get blood on my floor. It’s a bitch to get that stuff out of the carpet.

I munched on one of those delicious treats while he blotted at his cut. With any kinda luck, he wouldn’t feel like eating.

“Lots of people calls me Jason,” I said between bites. “That’s what you’ll call me too.”

He said nothing. Sulking I supposed.

“So. We gots the who and the why. I needs to know the how. Or did I get the why? I’ve been t’inkin’. Maybe there’s another reason you tripped all this way to the Back Side. You thought I might have some souvenirs. Any other reason?”

He looked pretty scared now. Sometimes people get that way when they’ve been hurt. Not too many of us is used to being doused on the head. Or on any other body part for that matter.

“I…I’m kind of a reporter.”

“Kind of? Either you are or you aren’t. You can’t be kind of. That’s like you’re kind of a moose or not.”

He considered that for a moment. “I work in the mailroom right now. My dad’s the chief editor and he insisted I start at the bottom.”

“Uh-huh. Now that’s some wise, b’y.”

“I thought if I uncovered a big story, he’d…well, he’d promote me faster.”

“I dies at dat, fella. You are some full o’ yourself. So you takes off work and comes all the way out ‘ere cuz you t’ink I’m a big story. Huh.”

I took another lassy bun.

“I ought to be flattered, I suppose. After all these years I’m still a big story.”

“You’ll always be a big story,” he said. “No one will ever forget what you did.”

I stood up so quickly that my chair fell backwards.

“I’m havin’ trouble believing a dimwit like you found me when no one else has. Maybe you should use those smarts to show your father you’re a hard worker instead of trying to take the easy way around.”

I stretched up and back, hands on my hips. Took a few deep breaths, in my nose and out my mouth. Ten years of perfect solitude, no fools to hound me, no idiots to spread vicious rumors of my supposed exploits.

And this goof, this lowlife idiot, had cracked the mystery of my whereabouts? I had a difficult time calming down, I tell you.

“You might as well tell me how, lad.”

I righted my chair and sat down again, folded my arms and tried to achieve a kindly old man’s expression.

“Have a lassy bun first. You must be ‘ungry.”

While he munched, he stared at me the whole time. I was a museum piece to him. I gazed right back, knowing full well the emotions I felt weren’t visible.

The boy’s expression, on the other hand, clearly displayed curiosity, horror, fear, and even a hint of defiance.

The newspapers always described my eyes as “dead.” How can eyes be dead in the face of a person who is alive? Impossible. They meant devoid of feeling. Uncaring, calm, nothing to see here. Back away. That’s what they should have said.

This boy didn’t back away, though. I wondered if, instead of stupid, he was a bit like me. He cared about nothing and no one. In his case, his sole purpose was self-aggrandizement. Maybe he was more worthy than I thought.

“All right. Hope you liked your breakfast.”

He nodded, unable to halt the manners he’d clearly been taught.

“Yes, thank-you.”

I let the Newfoundland accent slip, winding him up, letting him think he’d gotten through.

“Tell me how you found me and maybe I’ll give you a story to take away with you.”

Brent sat up straighter. He was clearly pleased and excited.

He would never make it as a reporter. He was far too easily manipulated.

“I have some connections in the prison. The last one you were in,” he said.

I nodded, though I felt like saying, “Well, duh.”

“My friend was a guard there. He got me an interview with your old cellmate.”

Brent. You broke into my home. I am hosting you with great patience. I don’t expect lies.”

“Oh yah, yah, sorry, I meant a guy who was in the same segregation block as you. You know, the protective solitary cells where…”

“I guess I know all that. Stay on point.”

He nodded, eager to please me now.

“Yes, yes, of course. Anyway, this prisoner talked quite a lot to my friend. He claimed he’d heard you say to your lawyer that if they ever granted parole, you’d go to the other side of the country, like Newfoundland, and hide out.”

Those damn cells were like echo chambers.

“Okay. So did you search all over Newfoundland for the last ten years and just get lucky?”

“Of course not. I was just nine when…”

All I had to do this time was point my finger.

“Right, right. On point. So my friend kept in touch with this fellow even after he was released. By coincidence, the guy settled in St. John’s. He told my friend that he swore he saw you in town one day.”

I sat in silence for a moment. Saw me in town? Me in my silver wig and thick glasses and beard?

There had been a few times over the years when I’d felt as though someone had been watching. When I caught a pair of eyes that lingered a bit too long on my face. I’d always chalked it up to paranoia. Damn. As they say, just because you think people are watching you, it doesn’t mean they aren’t.

“And what did you do with that information?”

Brent looked a little embarrassed.

“I hired a PI in St. John’s to look out for you. In your disguise, like the other fellow described. Kevin’s No Frills.”

“You paid a guy to sit in a grocery store all year?”

“No, no, of course not. I just hired him for the week the con said he saw you. I figured if you were staying somewhere isolated, you’d have to stock up, and you probably did it the same week every year.”

He sure looked proud of himself. I was surprised by his ingenuity.

“That’s actually pretty smart for a dumbass,” I said.

“Well, the PI was the one who suggested…”

“And he knows you found me?”

Brent looked confused.

“He was the one who found you. He followed you up here and called me to give me directions.”

“So that’s who the burglar was,” I mused.


“We had us a burglar a few nights ago. Or at least, we thought that’s what he was. Guess he was your PI instead.”

Brent nodded eagerly. “Maybe. Though I’m surprised he would come into your house.”

I shrugged. “Maybe he was after my teacup too?”

“Well, Paul, let’s face it, you are the most famous serial killer in Canada. Lots of places in the US, too. They even made a movie and some television…”

If only he hadn’t pushed. He was some stunned, that kid. Didn’t even notice the look on my face as he prattled on about my crimes. The ones I did, the ones they say I did but wasn’t convicted for.

“There are lots and lots of people who believe you never should have been paroled. There were quite a few protests against it. Did you know that?” Brent asked.

He still thought we were having a conversation.

“I did know that. I got attacked quite often, both inside and outside.”

“I read that! Can I quote you when I write the story?”

“Lad, you can quote me all you like when you write the story.”

“I can’t believe it! You are not what I expected at all.”

“What did you expect?”

He paused, a look of embarrassment flashing through his eyes. He even blushed a little.

“A monster?” I guessed. “Not a harmless old man who serves you tea and lassy buns?”

“Well, you did slap me and you threw the cup at me, but…well, I didn’t think you’d let me write the story, to be honest.”

“Oh me nerves, you got me drove,” I said so quietly that he kept on flapping his mouth.

“People are going to go nuts for this story. My dad will have to promote me and I’ll be a real reporter. Probably take over his job when he retires.”

“Do you think people will change their minds about letting me out when they read how old and harmless I am now?” I asked.

“I do. I can write it for sympathy if you like. Explain a few things if you want me to.”

“Explain that I didn’t do half of what they claimed, you mean?”

“Sure, if that’s your story, I will tell it.”

I stared at his small, petty lips with its satisfied smirk. The mouth that formed a silent “Oh” when I broke his neck.

“Well the story would be wrong,” I said to his truly dead eyes. “Once you have a monster caged, you should keep him there. Or keep him away from people. Let an outlier be.”

The silence was perfect.

Miss Kitty came out of hiding and began to lap up her tuna.

The kid wasn’t as much work as the burglar. That fella was a big bugger. Belatedly, I felt a grudging admiration for him, too. He’d never let on that he was a PI. Nor did he rat out the kid. Maybe he knew there’d be no tickets out of the harbor, so he kept himself to himself.

I figure I will only have to do this one more time when I pay a visit to my old pal from prison in St. John’s. Good thing, too. I’m getting too old for such excitement.

And Marvin’s getting too old for such rich food. I think I mentioned before that pigs make great pets. They’ll eat whatever’s on offer.

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WOW WHAT A YEAR – Part One – Kudos and Events!

Happy New Year, Readers!

In 2022, the Mesdames and Messieurs came back into the Real World via several wonderful live events while we kept busy with podcasts, virtual book launches and conferences.

And we enjoyed recognition both as a group and as individual authors!


On October 15th, Carrick Publishing released In the Spirit of 13, our 5th anthology, in celebration of the Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem’s 10th anniversary.

This outing, we let our imaginations go wild. We crafted 23 tales, ranging from comedy to noir, that celebrated ghosts, demons, the evil of human nature and even alcohol!

Our collection received a warm review from Jack Batten, in one of the last he wrote for The Toronto Star before he retired. Jack said:

There’s more than enough to light up and surprise readers for many nights of pleasure, some of it in easygoing whimsy.”


The Mesdames of Mayhem were the subject of the full-page article, “Murder, She Wrote”, published in the Saturday Toronto Star on October 29, 2022. Contributing columnist Briony Smith wrote about our joy penning crime fiction – and our warm friendship. Read the full article in the Toronto Star.


Melodie Campbell
Melodie Campbell

Melodie Campbell interviewed two of crime fiction’s superstars: Ian Rankin who was a guest author at the Maple Leaf Mystery Conference, May 24 to 28th. And Linwood Barclay on May 19th at the launch of his latest novel, Take Your Breath Away, in Burlington.

Her mentee, Delee Fromm’s entry, The Strength to Rise, was a finalist for the Crime Writers of Canada Award for Best Unpublished Manuscript.

Melissa Yi had a stellar year. Her short story, “Dead Man’s Hand“, published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, March 2021, was a finalist for the CWC Best Short Story Award.

Her story, “White Snow and Seven Dreams” was a finalist for the Surrey Muse Arts Society’s 2022 Joy Kogawa Award for Fiction, beating out more than 300 entrants!

And her play, The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World, was chosen by Calgary’s Stage One Festival. She performed the play to rave reviews in July at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival.

Cat Mills
Cat Mills

Cat Mills released two critically acclaimed films this year: Me, Mahmoud and the Mint Plant and The Billboard Squad, a documentary for Al-Jazeera.

Both films were shown at several film festivals, including the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, Calgary International Film Festival, Lunenberg Documentary Festival, St. Johns International Women’s Film Festival and Planet in Focus Film Festival.

Mme Mad

M. H. Callway‘s story, “Last Island”, was the cover story of the November issue of Mystery Magazine.



On October 30th, we launched In the Spirit of 13 at our favorite bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street. It was a smashing success! Sleuth’s was packed with friends, fans, family and well-wishers.

Lisa De Nikolits, Cat Mills and Jane Burfield
Donna Carrick (centre) and Alex Carrick (R)
Blair Keetch, Lynne Murphy, Cat Mills, Lisa de Nikolits, Jane Burfield, Sylvia Warsh, Ed Piwowarczyk, Donna Carrick

A great highlight was making Sleuth’s co-owner, Marian Misters, an honorary Mme of Mayhem.

We followed up on November 13th with a successful Zoom launch, with special thanks to backroom tech wizard, Ted Carrick.

Marian Misters
Blair Keetch, Lynne Murphy
Sylvia Warsh (centre), Ed Piwowarczyk, Donna Carrick ,
M. H. Callway


Lisa De Nikolits

On November 17th, Lisa de Nikolits launched her new novel, Everything You Dream is Real, the sequel to her acclaimed thriller, The Rage Room at a fab hybrid event organized by her publisher, Inanna Publications.

And in December, continuing on into January 2023, she embarked on an extensive blog tour.

During 2022, Lisa was featured on several national and international interviews and did a reading of her work at the CanLit Authors Fest on June 18th.

Lynne Murphy
Lynne Murphy

Lynne Murphy had a fabulous Zoom launch on April 23rd for her book, Potluck and Other Stories, with participants as far away as the UK and the Channel Islands.

Potluck contains the hilarious adventures of the eccentric residents of the Golden Elders Condo plus her new novella, A Damaged Heart.

Melissa Yi

Melissa Yi launched the first book in her new Hope Sze series, The Shapes of Wrath, at the Cornwall Library in November 2022.

She successfully crowd-funded the new book as well!


Award-winning author, Mike Martin and his team brought the dream of a new national crime writers conferences to life with the Maple Leaf Mystery Conference, May 24th to 28th. Leading crime writers and guest authors were: Ian Rankin, Maureen Jennings, Vicky Delany, Rick Mofina and Iona Whishaw.

Several Mesdames moderated and/or participated on many panels: Catherine Astolfo, Jane Burfield, M. H. Callway, Melodie Campbell, Donna Carrick, Lisa de Nikolits, Rosemary McCracken, Lynne Murphy, Madona Skaff and Caro Soles.

Cathy Astolfo
Jane Burfield
Jane Burfield
M. H. Callway
Melodie Campbell
Melodie Campbell
Donna Carrick
Lisa de Nikolits
Rosemary McCracken
Rosemary McCracken
Lynne Murphy
Lynne Murphy
Madona Skaff
Caro Soles
Caro Soles
Melissa Yi

On December 3rd, Mike Martin and his team returned to put on the virtual Ottawa Maple Leaf Mini-Conference to showcase Eastern Ontario crime writers, including Brenda Chapman and Mary Jane Maffini. Madona Skaff and Melissa Yi shared their knowledge on the day’s panels.

Earlier in 2022, on March 9th, Mike and Madona Skaff held a workshop for Capital Crime Writers about the pros and cons of self-publishing, entitled Indie Publishing: A Fine Adventure or Evil Torture.


In 2020, Left Coast Crime, San Diego, was forced to close after only half a day because of COVID. Two years later, from April 7 to 10th, LCC went live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. More than 200 authors and fans celebrated its return.

M. H. Callway was honored to be on the short story panel, moderated by Lisa Q. Matthews, and to moderate the panel on noir crime fiction.


For the first time, the Toronto International Festival of Authors celebrated leading international crime writers from June 3 to 5th. Lisa de Nikolits was one of the Canadian authors invited!

Crime Writers of Canada hosted a booth with the help of M. H. Callway, Blair Keetch and Sylvia Warsh.


Toronto’s annual book festival, Word on the Street, returned live on the June 11-12th weekend, moving back to its Queen’s Park venue.

Caro Soles sponsored the booth for The Mesdames of Mayhem together with Blair Keetch and Rosemary McCracken.


The multi-genre conference, When Words Collide, went virtual for 2020, 2021 and 2022. (This year, 2023, WWC will be live!) WWC took place on Zoom from August 12 to 15th with the support and participation of many genre associations, including the Crime Writers of Canada.

Jayne Barnard
Jayne Barnard
M.H. Callway
Therese Greenwood
Therese Greenwood
Kevin Thornton
Kevin Thornton

Jayne Barnard, M. H. Callway, Therese Greenwood and Kevin Thornton participated in and/or moderated the crime writing panels.


Donna Carrick returned to host Season 5 of the podcast, Dead to Writes. In 2022, she interviewed 16 of the authors in our new anthology, In the Spirit of 13, as well as artist, Sarah Carrick, who has designed each of our five anthology covers. Listen here to the full Dead to Writes podcast series 5.

Lisa de Nikolits continued her amazing podcast series, I Read Somewhere That…

Catch up here on all 19 of Lisa’s I Read Somewhere That…podcasts.

The Crime Writers of Canada stepped up podcasting in 2022, with author interviews to promote their 40th anniversary anthology, Cool Canadian Crime, featuring Melodie Campbell, Lisa de Nikolits, Blair Keetch, Rosemary McCracken, Lynne Murphy and Sylvia Warsh.

CWC also did a series of webinars on the craft of crime writing. Donna Carrick was featured in January where she discussed the art of short story writing.



Toronto Sisters in Crime continued to meet virtually except for their annual field trip. This year was a tour of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection at the Toronto Reference Library – a terrific evening concluding with an in-person dinner afterwards.

Melodie Campbell was the guest presenter at SinC’s March 9th meeting where she discussed humor in crime fiction in Over My Dead Body.


Noir at the Bar Toronto returned to live events in 2022 at a new venue, The Duke of Kent pub, 2315 Yonge St. Its first Queer Noir at the Bar took place on June 8th with a reading by Caro Soles. Lynne Murphy and Lisa de Nikolits read at the September 29th meeting.

A big thank you to Rob Brunet and Hope Thompson for their support of Canadian crime writers – and the Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem.


Marilyn Kay and Roz Place for keeping our newsletter running!

Marilyn Kay
Marilyn Kay
Rosalind Place
Rosalind Place
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NEWS FLASH! Sleuth of Baker Street to Retire

Bittersweet news: Marian Misters and J. D. Singh have made it official: Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore is retiring after over 40 years in business.

We’re sad because of the wonderful support Sleuth’s has given us as individual writers and as the Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem. Not to mention the joy of reading and discovering new favorite authors.

As Marian and JD wind down the business, they will still take special orders and find you that book you’ve always been looking for.

The biggest of bear hugs to Marian, JD, Pixie and Prince for all the joy they have given us and crime writing community!

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New Year Kitten

We’re celebrating our 10th Anniversary all year! Watch for monthly reprints of short stories from our first four anthologies by our Mesdames and Messieurs. We also have some exciting news and reviews to share with you this month.


The Quarantine Review‘s Issue 14 includes both Mme Lisa de Nikolits’ Everything You Dream is Real and The Mesdames of Mayhem’s In The Spirit of 13 on their “Holiday Hotlist”.

Here’s a link:


Join Mme Lisa de Nikolits‘ blog tour! It’s running until January 14, 2023. For more information about the blog tour, including dates and blogs, here’s the link.


Mme Melissa Yuan-Innes is celebrating the new year with her first publication in On Spec, the Canadian Magazine of the Fantastic. Her poem, “Needles”, appears in Issue #122, Vol 32, No 4.

Current Issue #122 VOL 32 No 4 | onspecmag (

Melissa Yi
Melissa Yi

Reviewer, Jamieson Wolf, named Melissa‘s latest book, The Shapes of Wrath, one of the best books of 2022.

Rosemary McCracken

Mme Rosemary McCracken wrote a wonderful tribute to Jack Batten, crime fiction reviewer, on her blog, Moving Target. Jack wrote his Whodunit column for nearly 24 years and he was especially supportive of the Mesdames of Mayhem, reviewing all our anthologies. Here’s the link:



To celebrate our 10th anniversary, on the 15th of each month this year, we’ll be reprinting a story by a Mme or Monsieur from our first four anthologies. We’re going alphabetically and we’re delighted that Mme Cathy Astolfo will be our first author with “The Outlier” from 13 Claws. Her story won the Crime Writers of Canada Award of Excellence for Best Short Story – and it’s one of the scariest stories we’ve ever read.

13 Claws Anthology


Reminder: Submissions for the Derringer awards open on January 1st. To submit a story, you must be a members of the Short Mystery Fiction Society by December 31, 2022. Authors may submit up to two stories and these can be their own work or those of a friend. The friend does not need to be a member of SMFS. For full details and updates, check the website.

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Happy Winter Solstice!

Shared from Joanne Guidoccio’s blog, On the Road to Reinvention, with thanks!

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NEWS FLASH! Mme Lynne Murphy Interviewed by CWC!

Lynne Murphy
Lynne Murphy

Mme Lynne Murphy is interviewed by Erik de Souza for Crime Writers of Canada. She talks about her story in the CWC anthology, Cold Canadian Crime and her intrepid adventures in the writing crime fiction.

Here are the links:



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Happy Holidays, Dear Readers!

It’s winter solstice and the Holidays. What’s more wonderful than snuggling up with terrific new books and stories by the fabulous Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem?

Whether you love cozy crime, thrillers, whodunnits, noir, Sherlockania, romance or speculative fiction, we have something here for you. Enjoy and have the best holiday ever!


Stories by 22 Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem!


Thirteen, an anthology of Crime Stories
Our very first book!
13 o'clock anthology
Our take on Father Time!

13 Claws Anthology
Cathy A’s CWC Award Winner!
In the Key of 13 Anthology
Music and Mayhem!


Cozy comedy mystery
Critically acclaimed speculative fiction/thriller
Popular cozy stories and a new thriller novella
SF/Crime Merculian Book 6
SF/Crime Merculian Book 7
New Dr. Hope Sze series, Book 1
Fun speculative fiction!

Amazing Anthologies

Stories by Melodie Campbell, Lisa De Nikolits, Blair Keetch, Sylvia Maultash Warsh, Rosemary McCracken and Lynne Murphy
Story by Jayne Barnard
Story by M. H. Callway

Story by Jayne Barnard
Story by Jayne Barnard
Story by Melissa Yi

Mayhem in Magazines!

Story by M. H. Callway
Story by Melodie Campbell
Story by Sylvia Warsh
Story by Melissa Yi
Reprint by Melodie Campbell
Shotgun Honey, Story by Blair Keetch
Story by Melissa Yi in Candy Cane Kisses

For Fans of Sherlock Holmes

All with Stories by Kevin Thornton


Comedy mystery
Book 3 in the Series, Audible and ebook

The Maddie Hatter Steam Punk Series

Deadly Diamond (Maddie Hatter)
Gilded Gauge (Maddie Hatter)
Timely Taffeta (Maddie Hatter)

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Last month was super busy and December looks even busier. The Farmer’s Almanac predicts a cold winter ahead – perfect for curling up with your human and animal family and a great book!

Look for our Year End Book Review coming soon and enjoy the holidays and being together!


Marian Misters has been a co-owner of the Sleuth of Baker Street Mystery Bookstore for over 40 years. She has been an incredible supporter of Canadian crime writers and wonderful to the Mmes! Every one of our five anthologies has been launched at Sleuth.

Looking for a change from her career as an auditor, Marian and her partner bought the Sleuth in 1982. She was awarded the 2021 Derrick Murdoch Award for her contributions to the Canadian mystery community, has served as Jury Chair for the Awards of Excellence, reads lots and lots of mystery books, and is delighted to be an honorary Mme!

When you visit Toronto, be sure to visit Sleuth for the latest and best crime fiction books or to find that classic mystery you’ve been searching for. Be sure to say hello to Pixie and Prince, too.


Madona Skaff
Melissa Yi

The Maple Leaf Mystery Ottawa Virtual Mini-Conference takes place this Saturday, December 3rd from 9 am to 5 pm.

The conference features interviews with some of Canada’s best-known mystery writers and FOUR terrific panels of top authors, including Mmes Madona Skaff and Melissa Yi.

Melissa discusses short stories on the Get Shorty panel at 9:30 am and Madona talks about suspense at 5 pm on the Suspicious Minds panel.

Join the Crime Writers of Canada and Toronto Sisters in Crime on Monday, December 5th, 6:30 pm to celebrate the holidays at a virtual Festive Fete. (Event is for members of CWC and SinC only.)


Melissa Yi

The Surry Muse Arts Society announced the finalists for the 2022 Joy Kogawa Award for Fiction and Melissa Yi’s work, White Snow and Seven Dreams, is on the short-list, beating out more than 300 entrants!

Sylvia Warsh

Sylvia Warsh’s article about the Mesdames of Mayhem and our new anthology, In the Spirit of 13, was featured on the leading crime fiction blog, Mysteryrat’s Maze.

Thank you to Lorie Ham of Kings River Life Magazine in the U.S.A.

Read Sylvia’s article here:

Lisa De Nikolits was interviewed by leading blog, The Open Book, last month. She talks about the great influence late Inanna editor, Luciana Ricciutelli, had on her career as a novelist.

Lisa honored Luciana with a dedication in her new novel, Everything You Dream is Real.

Read Lisa’s full interview here.


Melodie Campbell
Melodie Campbell

Melodie Campbell’s new series, The Merry Widow Murders, published by Cormorant Books, is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Publication date Spring, 2023!

The merry widow of an English earl finds a body in her stateroom. She must solve the murder or reveal her unusual past.

Melissa Yi

Melissa Yi’s new Dr. Hope Sze series is based on the seven deadly sins.

The first book in the series, The Shapes of Wrath, launched last month at the Cornwall Public Library. It’s now available on Amazon!

Hell hath no fury like a surgeon scorned. Dr. Hope Sze must deal with Dr. Vrac, the scourge of the operating theatre. When patients begin to die under his scalpel, Hope goes into action.

Jayne Barnard
Jayne Barnard

Jayne Barnard’s story, “Lullaby at Lamas” is part of the new anthology, Prairie Witch, published by Prairie Soul West. The book is now available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.

In the past, women who did not conform to subservient social norms were often called witches and condemned to death. Now women have reclaimed the word “witch” to symbolize female empowerment.

Sylvia Warsh

Sylvia Warsh had two poems published on the blog, Writing in a Woman’s Voice: “(Chilean, Afghani, Ukrainian) Refugee” and “Krakow by Night”.

And she was invited to contribute to a new blog, Shepherd for Authors. The recently established website aims to connect readers and authors. Read Sylvia’s article, “The Best Holocaust Memoirs on What Real People Experienced” here.

Rosemary McCracken
Rosemary McCracken

Rosemary McCracken, too, was a guest blogger on Shepherd for Authors where she shared news about her writing career and Uncharted Waters, the latest book in her popular Pat Tierney series.

Shepherd also asked her to share her five favorite Canadian mysteries. Read Rosemary’s blog here.


The Zoom launch of In the Spirit of 13 featuring at least a dozen of the contributing Mesdames and Messieurs was recorded for Donna Carrick’s podcast, Dead to Writes. Watch here or on YouTube.

A HUGE thank you for managing the back room goes to techie super-hero, Ted Carrick!


The deadline for submissions to the Canadian Crime Writers Awards of Excellence is coming up fast on Thursday, December 15th. For submission rules, please consult CWC’s website here.

And you can’t win a lottery if you don’t buy a ticket, but even being longlisted for Otto Penzler’s Best Mystery Stories of the Year series is HUGE! Stories published this year must be received by December 31st. Mailing address: The Mysterious Bookshop, 58 Warren Street, New York NY 10007, U.S.A.